Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016NJ380B

Microplastics as emerging contaminants in surface waters of New Jersey

Institute: New Jersey
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $12,956

Principal Investigators: Shirin Estahbanati, Nicole Fahrenfeld

Abstract: Microplastics are emerging contaminants in the water environment and are a global issue. Widespread microplastic pollution in oceans presents a risk to marine life. One of the sources of microplastic in the surface water is the effluent of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). Hydrophobic microplastic particles adsorb organic contaminants and are a surface for biofilm in growth and serve to transport these pollutants into marine life. Preliminary results from my research demonstrate the presence of microplastics in NJ surface waters. To better understand the sources and fate of microplastics in surface waters, water samples will be collected from rivers in New Jersey upstream and downstream of WWTP outfalls. The research will (1) determine the effect of WWTPs on the number and size class of microplastics in our waterways. This study presents the first comprehensive results about microplastics with a wide size distribution (63- 500m). I found the smallest size fraction, which other researchers have ignored, is present at the highest concentration in personal care products and hypothesize that it poses the greatest risk of due to its large surface area for carrying contaminants. Next, I will (2) determine the presence of pathogenic bacteria (e.g., E. coli and Salmonella) on the surface of microplastics in each size category. Because these particles pass through WWTPs, they may be transporting and protecting bacteria from disinfection. In addition providing data on microplastic distribution, this research will provide important information about whether microplastics transport pathogens in surface water. Results will be of interest to regulators, WWTPs operators, and the general public by providing new data on the presence of microplastics in NJ water towards minimizing the risk of this pollutant in the water environment.