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Environ Pollut. 2018 Mar;234:448-456. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.11.034. Epub 2017 Dec 21.

Microplastics in freshwater river sediments in Shanghai, China: A case study of risk assessment in mega-cities.

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State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, East China Normal University, 200062, Shanghai, China.
Instrumental Analysis Center, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 200240, Shanghai, China.
State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, East China Normal University, 200062, Shanghai, China. Electronic address:


Microplastics, which are plastic debris with a particle diameter of less than 5 mm, have attracted growing attention in recent years. Its widespread distributions in a variety of habitats have urged scientists to understand deeper regarding their potential impact on the marine living resources. Most studies on microplastics hitherto are focused on the marine environment, and research on risk assessment methodology is still limited. To understand the distribution of microplastics in urban rivers, this study investigated river sediments in Shanghai, the largest urban area in China. Seven sites were sampled to ensure maximum coverage of the city's central districts, and a tidal flat was also included to compare with river samples. Density separation, microscopic inspection and μ-FT-IR analysis were conducted to analyze the characteristics of microplastics and the type of polymers. The average abundance of microplastics in six river sediment samples was 802 items per kilogram of dry weight. The abundance in rivers was one to two orders of magnitude higher than in the tidal flat. White microplastic spheres were most commonly distributed in river sediments. Seven types of microplastics were identified, of which polypropylene was the most prevailing polymers presented. The study then conducted risk assessment of microplastics in sediments based on the observed results, and proposed a framework of environmental risk assessment. After reviewing waste disposal related legislation and regulations in China, this study conclude that in situ data and legitimate estimations should be incorporated as part of the practice when developing environmental policies aiming to tackle microplastic pollution.


FT-IR; Freshwater; Microplastic; Pollution; Risk assessment

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