Microplastics in Irish Freshwater Environment

Today our years of research culminated in the publication of the EPA Report “Impacts of Microplastics on the Irish Environment”. The report can be found on the EPA website, and is available as a free download to anyone.

cover of EPA Report 377 "Impacts of Microplastics on the irish Freshwater Environment"

The study reveals the effects of microplastics on our freshwater plants and animals, and warns of potential repercussions for the entire food chain and ultimately, the human population.

Plastics are a key part of a modern lifestyle. They are durable, lightweight, and low cost. However, the production and use of plastics is resulting in widespread plastic pollution in the natural environment. Especially worrying are small plastic fragments called microplastics as well as even smaller nanoplastics. While it is now well known that microplastics are found in our oceans, it is important to realise that they are found in our freshwater environments as well.

Our study generated accurate data on the biological impacts of key microplastics on two representative freshwater species common in Ireland: Lemna minor and Gammarus duebeni. Freshwater systems do not simply transport plastics from land to the marine environment; they are themselves microplastic pollution sinks. We highlight three processes to be of concern: (1) the trophic transfer of microplastics into the food chain, (2) the rapid fragmentation of microplastics into nanoplastics and (3) the ingestion of microfibres.

To avoid these processes from happening we need to focus on the prevention of plastic pollution and/or the capture of plastic pollutants at the source.

Read more: EPA Report 377