London’s river of plastic: High levels of microplastics in the Thames water column

Katharine Rowley, Anna-Christina Cucknell, Brian Smith, Paul Clark, David Morritt

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This opportunistic study focussed on the quantification of microplastics in the River Thames water column, the catchment responsible for draining Greater London. Two sites on the tidal Thames were sampled; one upstream of the City of London at Putney, and the other downstream at Greenwich. Water column samples were collected from June through to October 2017, being taken on the ebb and flood tides, at the surface and a depth of 2 m. Microplastics (excluding microfibres) were identified to test whether the load varied between the two sites in relation to tide, depth and season. Secondary microplastics, films and fragments, contributed 93.5% of all those found at Putney and Greenwich. Site, tide, depth and month affected density, with the combined interaction of month and site found to have the greatest influence on microplastics. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy analysis showed that polyethylene and polypropylene were the most common polymers collected from the River, suggesting broken down packaging was the primary source of microplastics in these samples. Excluding microfibres, the estimate of microplastics in the water column was 24.8 per m3 at Putney and 14.2 per m3 at Greenwich. These levels are comparable to some of the highest recorded in the world.
Original languageEnglish
Article number140018
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Early online date8 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020

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