Wastewater treatment systems collect and treat sewage that includes microplastics (MPs). However, we are not aware of any studies on the occurrence and distribution of MPs in wastewater stabilization ponds (WSPs), which serve small communities worldwide. Here, we characterized MPs (~45 µm–5 mm) in an aerated WSP serving ~500 houses and an adjacent lake. Putative MPs were most abundant in duckweed (Lemna minor
) and sludge (75 ± 22 and 12.8 ± 3.1 particles/g, respectively: ±1 standard deviation (SD), n = 6, dry weight). In the water, average concentrations (particles/L ± 1 SD, n = 6) were highest in the pond (4.1 ± 0.6), followed by effluent (3.9 ± 0.5) and the lake (2.6 ± 0.6). Over 20 types of MPs were identified in each different compartment, with the distribution varying somewhat between the water, sludge, and duckweed. Polyester and polyethylene were the predominant types, followed by polyethylene terephthalate, polyacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and others. Morphologies consisted of fibers (62–71%), fragments (28–37%), and beads (1–6%). High-density polymers were more frequently found in sludge. Potential sources of the MPs include synthetic textiles from laundry and other plastics washed down household drains. Overall, with ~786,000 MPs/day released in the pond effluent and with duckweed a source of food for waterfowl, we demonstrate that WSPs can be point sources of MPs to both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and thus deserve further scrutiny.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.