Microplastics and Microfibers in the Sludge of a Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant

Microplastics and Microfibers in the Sludge of a Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant

J. Bayo S. Olmos  J. López-Castellanos  A. Alcolea 

Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Cartagena, Spain

Aquambiente, Capitanes Ripoll, 8, Cartagena, Spain

Support Service for Technological research, technical University of Cartagena, Spain

30 September 2016
| Citation



The presence of microplastics and synthetic microfibers in the environment is increasing, causing an accumulation in the food chain because their ingestion by different organisms in the ecological community. This paper deals with the importance of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) as a source of microplastics and microfibers from the sludge to the environment. These micropollutants have been monitored in an urban WWTP during 2015, after being separated from the sludge. Micro-pollutants were extracted by flotation, using a concentrated solution of sodium chloride and several stainless steel sieves. After an initial screening performed with a trinocular microscope, the samples were analyzed by Fourier transform infrared spectrometry and a differential scanning calorimeter, this last technique only for the identified subsamples. Significant matches with databases could be observed, identifying different compounds such as polypropylene, Nylon©, transparent thermoplastic polyamides, norbornene, and ethyl acrylate, among others. These microplastics and microfibers could be transported with organic matter on fertilizers, being used as compost in the field crops of Campo de Cartagena.


microfibers, microplastics, sludge, wastewater treatment plant


[1] Ryan, P.G., Moore, C.J., van Franeker, J.A. & Moloney, C.L., Monitoring the abundance of plastic debris in the marine environment. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, pp. 1999––2012, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0207

[2] Barnes, D.K.A., Galgani, F., Thompson, R.C. & Barlaz, M., Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, pp. 1985–1998, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0205

[3] Eerkes-Medrano, D., Thompson, R.C. & Aldridge, D.C., Microplastics in freshwater systems: a review of the emerging threats, identification of knowledge gaps and prioritisation of research needs. Water Research, 75, 93–82, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2015.02.012

[4] Derraik, J., The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44, pp. 842–852, 2002. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0025-326X(02)00220-5

[5] Ugolini, A., Ungherese, G., Ciofini, M. & Lapuccio, A., Microplastic debris in sandhoppers. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science, 129, pp. 19–22, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2013.05.026

[6] Bayo, J., Angosto, J.M. & Gómez-López, M.D., Ecotoxicological screening of reclaimed disinfected wastewater by Vibrio fischeri bioassay after a chlorination-dechlorination process. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 172, pp. 166–171, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2009.06.157

[7] Vianello, A., Boldrin, A., Guerriero, P., Moschino, V., Rella, R., Sturaro, A. & Da Ros, L., Microplastic particles in sediments of Lagoon of Venice, Italy: first observations on occurrence, spatial patterns and identification. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science, 130, pp. 54–61, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2013.03.022

[8] Magnusson, K. & Norén, F., Screening of microplastic particles in and down-stream a wastewater treatment plant, IVL Swedish EnviromentalEnvironmental Research Institute, 2014.

[9] Talvitie, J. &Heinonen, M., Preliminary study on synthetic microfibers and particles at a municipal waste water treatment plant, HELCOM, BASE project 2012-2014, 2014.

[10] Pretsch, E., Bühlmann, P. & Affolder, C., Structure Determination of Organic Compounds. Tables of Spectral Data, 3rd edn., Springer: Berlin, 2000. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-04201-4

[11] Sessa, D.J., Cheng, H.N., Kim, S., Selling, G.W. & Biswas, A., Zein-based polymers formed by modifications with isocyanates. Industrial Crops and Products, 43, pp. 106–113, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2012.06.034

[12] Siracusa, V., Rocculi, P., Romani, S. & Rosa, M.D., Biodegradable polymers for food packaging: a review. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 19, pp. 634–643, 2008. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2008.07.003

[13] Yong, Z., Lili, C., Xiaoxia, C., Heng, Z. & Nianqiu, S., Zein-based films and their usage for controlled delivery: origin, classes and current landscape. Journal of Controlled Release, 206, pp. 206–219, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jconrel.2015.03.030

[14] Sun, Y., Zhang, Q., Hu, J., Chen, J. & Wang, W., Theoretical study for OH radical-initiated atmospheric oxidation of ethyl acrylate. Chemosphere, 119, pp. 626–633, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.07.056

[15] Maleki, A., Pajootan, E. & Hayati, B., Ethyl acrylate grafted chitosan for heavy metal removal from wastewater: equilibrium, kinetic and thermodynamic studies. Journal of the Taiwan Institute of Chemical Engineers, 51, pp. 127–134, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jtice.2015.01.004

[16] Browne, M.A., Niven, S.J., Gallowy, T.S., Rowland, S.J. & Thompson, R.C., Microplastic moves pollutants and additives to worms, reducing functions linked to health and biodiversity. Current Biology, 23, pp. 2388–2392, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.012

[17] Lenz, M., Creffield, J.W., Evans, T.A., Kard, B., Vongkaluang, C., Sornnuwat, Y., Lee, C.Y., Yoshimura, T. & Tsunoda, K., Resistance of polyamide and polyethylene cable sheathings to termites in Australia, Thailand, USA, Malaysia and Japan: a comparison of four field assessment methods. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 66, pp. 53–62, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ibiod.2011.11.001

[18] Shen, L., Reiner, E.J., Macpherson, A.K. & Kolic, T.M., Identification and screening analysis of halogenated norbornene flame retardants in the laurentian great lakes: dechloranes 602, 603 and 604. Environmental Science & Technology, 44, pp. 760–766, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es902482b

[19] Barón, E., Eljarrat, E. & Barceló, D., Analytical method for the determination of halogenated norbornene flame retardants in environmental and biota matrices by gas chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography A, 1248, pp. 154–160, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chroma.2012.05.079

[20] Barón, E., Bosch, C., Máñez, M., Andreu, A., Sergio, F., Hiraldo, F., Eljarrat, E. & Barceló, D., Temporal trends in classical and alternative flame retardants in birds eggs from doñana natural space and surrounding areas (south-western Spain) between 1999 and 2013. Chemosphere, 138, pp. 316–323, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2015.06.013

[21] Andrady, A., Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62, pp. 1596–1605, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.05.030

[22] Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Halsband, C. & Galloway, T., Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62, pp. 2588–2597, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.09.025

[23] Fendall, L. & Sewell, M., Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58, pp. 1225–1228, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.04.025

[24] Pospísil, J. & Nespurek, S., Chain-breaking stabilizers in polymers: the current status. Polymer Degradation and Stability, 49, pp. 99–110, 1995. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0141-3910(95)00043-L

[25] Ilie, S. & Senetscu, R., Polymeric materials review on oxidation, stabilization and evaluation using CL and DSC methods. TN Technical Note, avaliableavailable at cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1201650/files/Ilie_TE_Technical_ Notes.pdf

[26] Tripathi, A.K., Tsavalas, J.G. & Sundberg, D.C., Quantitative measurements of the extent of phase separation during and after polymerization in polymer composites using DSC. Thermochimica Acta, 568, pp. 20–30, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tca.2013.06.013

[27] Cosmetics industry in the USA and EU speak out about ban on microplastics, avaliable at www.plasticsopufoundation.org