Microplastic detected everywhere in the environment

Microplastic detected everywhere in the environment


In a recently published status report, the Austrian Environment Agency (UBA) gives an overview of the latest national and international studies – in some cases also from the agency itself – that deal with the topic of microplastic. Many analyses show that there is microplastic not only in waterways, soil and air all over the world, but also in foodstuffs, cosmetics and cleaning products. However, in order to give recommendations on necessary action, there is a need for more reliable data, which would be collected by sampling and analysis methods that are standardised throughout Europe.

When looking at the current status in the form of a literature study on microplastic discharges, the authors point to the lack of validity and comparability of the studies. This, they say, is a "key problem". As before, there is a lack of any standardised measuring methodology. Because of the different sampling and analysis methods, the data on the quantities in waterways – which, according to the report, is covered by most of the studies – sometimes fluctuate considerably. As far as the microplastic contamination in the drinking water is concerned, tap water taken from groundwater and surface water is, according to the report, not contaminated at all or only to a very small extent, whereas water filled into bottles has a tendency to contain more microplastic. The smaller the examined particle sizes, the higher the content, says the report.

As far as microplastic in the soil is concerned, the study shows that the first international studies report on contamination resulting from the use of plastic film or other plastic products in agriculture as well as sewage sludge, compost and digestates. Another important source – in addition to littering and atmospheric discharge – is tyre abrasion. A study by the Environment Agency stemming from 2015 puts tyre abrasion from Austria's roads at 6,766 t per year. Microplastic was also found in the air, where it can be transported over long distances and deposited in remote areas. Following the findings in waterways, soil and air, microplastic has since also been detected in foodstuffs. There are also initial data on findings in the human body, such as in a pilot study by the UBA dating from 2018. The quantities involved and the composition of the microplastic in foodstuffs are nevertheless still unclear because there are so few studies.

According to the authors from the Austrian Environment Agency, the discharge of microplastic into the environment cannot yet be evaluated, nor would it be possible to give any recommendations for action. Additional – more reliable – data is needed as well as more knowledge on the discharge pathways. Apart from that, more research needs to be carried out on the effects of microplastic discharges into the environment. The authors nevertheless recommend pushing forward with measures to reduce discharges, as per the 'precautionary principle'.

More information: Status report 2019 "Microplastic in the environment" (download/only in German)


  • https://www.uba.at/ (15.4.2020)
  • Mikroplastik in der Umwelt, Statusbericht 2019 von Bettina Liebmann und Katharina Sexlinger (2020)

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