Tackling Microplastic Pollution in Europe's Rivers

Tackling Microplastic Pollution in Europe's Rivers

How much plastic ends up in our rivers? And what are the effects on our health and the environment? A group of Italian citizens and scientists have come together to try to answer these questions.

By Denis Loctier

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Representative image, Arno river, Florence, Italy, Source: Pixabay

Several times a year, the inhabitants of Sambuca and other Italian municipalities visit dozens of test sites along local rivers to assess the level of pollution in the water. This example of 'citizen science' provides a wealth of interesting data while at the same time raising public awareness about environmental conservation.

"We conduct three types of observations: two are made with chemical reagents that determine the nitrate and phosphate content and the third is a visual analysis that measures the turbidity of the water," says Marco Giunti, one of the volunteers.

The volunteers collect and log plastic litter — a common source of microplastic pollution carried by rivers into seas and the oceans. Other sources, such as urban wastewater or industry, can be indicated by various combinations of chemical pollutants.

"We note what type of plastic waste we found on a given site: we record everything in writing and online thanks to a specific mobile application," explains Andrea Vanni, a young volunteer.

Microparticles studied in "microcosms"

The data collected by citizen scientists are then studied within a European research project, POSEIDOMM, which uses laboratory instruments to find microplastics in water samples.

The water from the river is passed through a paper filter which is then heated in a special instrument up to 900 degrees Celsius. As the filter heats up, different compounds volatilise at different temperatures. The precise scales inside the instrument measure the changes of the sample's weight at each temperature, indicating the type and weight of microplastics present.

Read full article: Euro News