Microplastics polluting natural bodies of water – which are present in increasing quantities around the world – present a major environmental, food safety and health hazard. Among the rivers in Hungary that have been tested so far, the most were found in the Danube: 50 particles per cubic metre.
WESSLING Hungary Ltd. began the Tiny Plastic Mystery project in spring 2018, in order to determine the level of microplastic pollution in the Danube and its tributaries. Earlier samples have already shown that, similar to other European locations, microplastic pollution can be assumed to be present in the surface waters of Hungary, too.
Along the River Tisza, at Dombrád, WESSLING’s measurements showed that the number of plastic pieces over 300 µm in size was 4.9 per cubic metre of water, while the sample from the Tisza Lake had 23.1 particles/m3. Most of the pieces of plastic found were made of the widely used varieties polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.
With the assistance of the Central Danube Valley Water Management Directorate, the experts detected 45 particles of plastic in 1 m3 of water on average north of Megyeri Bridge, while the count came to 55 particles at the southern sampling location, by the Csepel Free Port. This may be related to the high population density of cities: the waste washed in by precipitation and wastewater treatment plants may also be significant sources of microplastics.
As regards to the material of the tiny plastic particles detected in the Danube, similar to earlier measurements in Hungary, the majority of the particles were made of the polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene used in consumer items and packaging.
The set of problems around pharmaceutical residues is extremely complex: the active compounds that are released can reach not only drinking water but also our food. Luckily, scientists have started investigating the problem, and the development of technologies able to offer a solution is also under way.
The active ingredients of various medicines are released into the environment with treated and untreated wastewater, and today they can be detected not only in surface waters but also in underground waters and the soil. But what defensive measures can we take against them? Hundreds of research groups are studying that question worldwide.
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More and more pharmaceutical drugs are sold each year, which, along with their benefits, have their disadvantages, too: some of the active ingredients are discharged from our bodies unchanged and they end up polluting our natural waters. Our current knowledge suggests that this does not carry a significant health risk, but as we do not know the long-term effects of the process, it is a problem for which we must find a solution in the near future, for instance by introducing new technologies.
Specialists believe almost 30 kilograms of microplastics has eroded from such a quantity of golf balls into the water.
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Modern medical science offers effective solutions to an increasing number of health problems, and in most cases they take the form of medications. Pills make our pain go away, they improve our quality of life and aid our recovery. But, unfortunately, the effects of their active ingredients do not stop there.
During the 1st Lake Tisza Plastic Cup, 32-year-old Bence Párdy got so outraged by the massive amount of waste covering the lake that after the Cup he left his job and moved to the side of the lake, where he has been collecting waste as a volunteer for over two months.
According to a report from the UN World Health Organisation, we urgently need to know more about microplastics, although according to our very limited current knowledge, they represent only a minimal health risk. Polluted drinking water is a much greater problem, as its consumption causes millions of fatalities each year.