Sources, Fate and Microbial Interactions of Microplastic Particles in Urban Rivers

J. Kelly, T.J. Hoellein, S.A. Mason, A.R. McCormick, M.G. London, J. W. Scott

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Microplastic particles (< 5 mm) are an environmental contaminant of emerging concern, as recent studies have documented microplastic in marine habitats worldwide. Microplastic sources include fragmentation of larger plastic items, industrial manufacturing pellets, personal care products, domestic cleansers, and synthetic textiles. Rivers have been suggested as a major source of microplastic to global oceans, but there are few measurements of microplastic concentrations or movement in fresh-water ecosystems. Our work has documented high microplastic fluxes in urban rivers in the Chicago metropolitan region, ranging from 15,000 to more than 4 million particles per day, and we have identified waste-water treatment plant effluent as a point source of microplastic. Using a longitudinal survey, we demonstrated that microplastic can be trans-ported long distances in a river (> 2 km) and can accumulate to very high concentrations in urban river sediment (10,000 times higher than water column). We also observed dense bacterial colonization of microplastic in urban rivers, and used high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to analyze the taxonomic composition of microplastic-attached bacterial communities. Microplastic-attached bacterial communities were distinct in taxonomic composition from communities in associated natural habitats, e.g. water column, seston and benthos. The taxonomic composi-tion of microplastic-attached bacterial communities supports domestic wastewater as a point source of microplastic, as microplastic supported high abundances of bacterial taxa associated with human gastrointesti-nal infections. Bacterial taxa linked to plastic decomposition were also abundant on microplastic particles, and shifts in microplastic community composition with distance from the WWTP suggest succession towards a ‘stream-like’ bacterial community and away from a ‘WWTP-like’ bacterial community. These results indicate that microplastic represents a novel habitat for bacterial communities and may play a role in dispersal of bacterial taxa within riverine ecosystems. Furthermore, our work sug-gests that rivers play a major role in the global microplastic life cycle, but the retention, export, and ecological interactions of microplastic in lotic ecosystems are understudied
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication7th Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry World Congress/Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry North America 37th Annual Meeting, 6-10 November 2016, Orlando, Florida
StatePublished - 2016


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