The effect of dams on river transport of microplastic pollution
Dams are known to trap pollutants such as metals and PCBs in the sediment that accumulates within their reservoirs. As more attention is paid to microplastics, an emerging contaminant in waterways worldwide, and how they move along rivers, whether microplastic particles also accumulate behind dams is an important question for informing estimates of global river inputs to oceans. In this study, we measured microplastic concentrations above, below, and within the reservoirs of six dams near Ithaca, NY USA. Samples were processed following the wet peroxide oxidation method and visual counting, followed by Raman Spectroscopy validation. We found that microplastic concentrations in sediment within reservoirs was significantly higher than in sediment above the dams (p = 0.005), and in water samples, concentrations within reservoirs was significantly lower (p = 0.02). Plastic fibers were the dominant plastic type, but in within-reservoir sediment samples, less abundant plastic types such as plastic fragments were found in higher proportions. These results show that the sediment collecting behind dams is one sink for microplastics in river systems at long timescales, indicating that accounting for dams may be important when modeling global riverine microplastic transport.
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