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USA - ‘Staggering amount of microplastics’ found in Delaware Estuary waterways

Results ‘likely means that no river, lake or stream is safe from this increasingly common contaminant’

Researchers found microplastics in each of the 53 waterways they sampled throughout 2020, a survey that reveals the impact of these long-lasting pollutants on the entire Delaware Estuary.

“The staggering amount of microplastics we found likely means that no river, lake or stream is safe from this increasingly common contaminant,” said Faran Savitz, one of the project’s researchers, in a news release about the study.

The project by PennEnvironment, a nonprofit environmental research group, is just one of many efforts initiated in the last several years to develop a better understanding of just how bad microplastic pollution is in the Delaware Estuary system. Other groups currently conducting research in the region include the Environmental Protection Agency, United States Geological Survey, Delaware River Basin Commission, Philadelphia Water Department, Rutgers, and University of Delaware.

Any plastic debris that is five millimeters — about the size of a pencil’s eraser tip — or smaller is considered microplastic. Often, these particles are pieces of larger plastics that have been broken down over time by water and weather. But they can also be original products, like the microbeads found in cosmetics, toothpaste and other personal care products; abrasives used in cleaning compounds; polyester and nylon microfibers woven into clothing; and pellets for plastics manufacturing.

Microfiber is a common culprit

“We most commonly find microplastic fragments and microfibers,” said Jonathan Cohen, a professor of marine science and policy at the University of Delaware who has been studying microplastics in the Delaware Bay since 2016. “Polyethylene and polypropylene are common plastic polymers in our samples, as are polyester and rayon.”

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