UCC scientists reveal 'alarming' research on the effects of microplastics

UCC scientists reveal 'alarming' research on the effects of microplastics

A newly published EPA Research report from a group led by Professor Marcel Jansen at UCC, 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. Picture Dan Linehan

NEW “alarming” research by scientists at University College Cork (UCC) shows that freshwater plants are passing microplastics up the food chain.

The newly published EPA Research report from a group led by Professor Marcel Jansen at University College Cork (UCC), 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.

The report looked at how microplastics are sticking to freshwater plants, which in turn are eaten by sea creatures.

The concerning report comes after World Environment Day.

The study looked at the impacts of microplastics on the Irish freshwater plant duckweed and found that hundreds of small plastics can stick to just a few square millimetres of plant surface.

While plastics are a key part of a modern lifestyle, the production and use of plastics are resulting in widespread plastic pollution in the natural environment.

Especially worrying are small plastic fragments called microplastics as well as even smaller nanoplastics.

Prof Jansen described the findings of the report as “alarming”.

“The finding that microplastics adhere to plant surfaces is alarming because other creatures are feeding on these plants and ingesting the microplastics."

From the research, the team found that when a freshwater crustacean Gammarus feeds on duckweed, it ingests these plastic particles.

Investigations by Dr Alicia Mateos-Cárdenas, the PhD researcher on the project, showed that once ingested by Gammarus, microplastics are very quickly broken down into smaller nanoplastics.

This is even more worrying as nanoplastics are small enough to enter living cells, potentially causing metabolic disruption.

Prof Jansen said that once plastics are ingested and fragmented into microscopic pieces there is currently nothing that can be done to catch these pieces of plastics.

“Therefore, the only way to stop the pollution of our freshwater environment is to remove the larger plastics before they disintegrate.” 

Prof Jansen added: “As a society, we need to prevent plastic pollution of the environment by reducing, reusing and recycling plastics.”

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