Microplastics in the water in Flanders present a ‘negligible to low’ risk to the environment, according to a study carried out by the university of Ghent and the Flemish Institute for Technical Research (Vito).
Microplastics are minute particles of plastic, less the five millimetres in diameter, which make their way into all parts of the environment – land, air and water.
The Ugent/Vito study looked at water in particular, including surface water, domestic wastewater, water from sewer purification plants and run-off from motorways. In total there were 210 samples taken from all over Flanders.
In surface water samples, the project found 0.36 particles per litre, which corresponds to figures found in other European studies. It was here where the effect, far below applicable limits, was described as negligible to low.
"All Flemish people together discharge 3 million particles per year via domestic wastewater," said Ilias Semmouri, a researcher at Ghent university.
"97% of all those particles are removed by sewage treatment plants, which is actually very good. But even after that treatment, 623 kilograms of microplastics from households still end up in Flemish waterways."
One surprising result was the amount of waste from the wear on vehicle tyres, which one way or another makes its way into the environment. At least 650kg a year builds up either on the roadside or is washed into wastewater by rain.
In the longer term, that amounts to 250 tonnes deposited in the environment, many times more than plastic from household sources.
“There is very little research available at the moment regarding tyre wear,” said Semmouri. "It is therefore difficult to compare these results with other studies. What is important is that we only searched for tire particles along a number of motorways. We therefore know nothing about the urban context, for example. Further research is needed.”