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  • by Trevor Loveday

Researchers blame water firms for microplastic pollution in rivers

Researchers at the University of Manchester have concluded that microplastic pollution in the UK’s rivers is, in main, the result of poor management of untreated wastewater and raw sewage by water companies. The research findings. published in Nature Sustainability, report that water companies are causing the riverbed contamination, by releasing untreated wastewater during periods of dry weather when river flows are too sluggish to carry microplastics downstream.


On the grounds that conventional treatment removes the great bulk of microplastics in wastewater the researchers have asserted that heavy contamination of river beds with microplastics is “a clear indication of poor wastewater management.”


Professor Jamie Woodward, who led the research, said the very high levels of microplastic contamination were “always” close to outfalls from wastewater treatment plant or combined sewer overflows.


In a statement United Utilities’ director of environmental planning and innovation, Jo Harrison, claimed the university study included “a number of flaws” adding that it “makes several assumptions without evidence.” Harrison claimed that the researchers’ data showed “numerous examples of increasing levels of microplastics when there is no wastewater discharge.”


The scientists at Manchester University’s Geography Department warned that the river bed was “the worst place for extended periods of microplastic contamination because it increases opportunities for ingestion by aquatic creatures, and for them to move through the food chain.” Microplastics, they added, are also vectors for other contaminants present in wastewater.


“We are asking the water companies to shoulder their responsibilities. We are also calling for stronger regulation from the Environment Agency to police water company discharges,” said Woodward.


Harrison said United Utilities was “already working with others to address the problem.”

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