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Microplastic particle emission from wastewater treatment plant effluents into river networks in Germany : Loads, spatial patterns of concentrations and potential toxicity

Title data

Schmidt, Christian ; Kumar, Rohini ; Yang, Soohyun ; Büttner, Olaf:
Microplastic particle emission from wastewater treatment plant effluents into river networks in Germany : Loads, spatial patterns of concentrations and potential toxicity.
Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung Leipzig
In: Science of the Total Environment. Vol. 737 (October 2020) . - No. 139544.
ISSN 1879-1026
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139544

Official URL: Volltext

Project information

Project title:
Project's official titleProject's id
SFB 1357 MikroplastikSFB1357

Abstract in another language

Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) are considered to be a point source of microplastic (particles <5 mm) for riverine environments. However, data on microplastic effluent concentrations in WWTPs is collected with a broad range of methods, which impede comparisons across data sets. We provide an estimate of the annual emissions of microplastic particles by WWTPs into the ten major river basins of Germany. We analyze the concentration patterns of microplastics among different stream orders resulting from the spatial organization of WWTPs along the river network. The local in-stream microplastic concentrations are estimated through a network model that accounts for routing of microplastics through the entire fluvial network under the assumption of no losses by sedimentation, entanglement or degradation. Previous studies have observed microplastic concentrations in treated WWTPs effluents ranging several orders of magnitude. In 19 studies reviewed (2016–2020), the concentrations of observed microplastic concentrations (size range between 10 and 5000 μm) in 79 WWTP effluents ranged between 4 ∗ 100 and 4.5 ∗ 105 items/m3 with a median of around 6400 items/m3. The total, median microplastic load emitted by WWTPs in Germany is 7 ∗ 1012 items/year. The simulated microplastic concentrations, on average, tend to increase with increasing stream order suggesting that the WWTP effluent fraction accumulates with a higher rate than discharge. Simulated WWTP-derived in-stream concentrations are higher than observed concentrations with all sources of microplastic, not only those from WWTPs. Observed microplastic concentrations in rivers as well as the considerably higher simulated, WWTP-derived microplastic concentration, even for low flow conditions, are approximately one order of magnitude below currently known toxic effect levels.

Further data

Item Type: Article in a journal
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: River ecotoxicology; WWTP; Stream order; Environmental assessment; Dilution
Institutions of the University: Research Institutions > Collaborative Research Centers, Research Unit > SFB 1357 - MIKROPLASTIK
Result of work at the UBT: No
DDC Subjects: 500 Science > 500 Natural sciences
500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 540 Chemistry
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences, geology
500 Science > 570 Life sciences, biology
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2020 05:37
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2020 05:37
URI: https://eref.uni-bayreuth.de/id/eprint/56686