According to a study, 70% of indoor aquatic systems contain microplastics, “one of the emerging problems in recent years.”

David León, coordinator of the Microplastics in Ríos de HyT project.

The 70% of the continental aquatic systems of Spain contains microplásticos -elements derived from plastic of less than 5 millimeters- and those located in areas of strong agricultural, urban and industrial influence are the most affected.It is the main conclusion of the study carried out by the Man and Territory association (HyT) in more than 30 rivers, streams or marshes belonging to the seven most representative terrestrial ecosystems in Spain, mainly Andalusia, in which the first protocol for the sampling and identification of these residues has been tested.These are polluting elements “that are hardly seen and are one of the emerging problems in recent years in aquatic systems ”, but most of the studies in Spain until now had focused on the marine environment, explains David León, coordinator of the Microplastics in Ríos de HyT project.“There was a great need to know the quality of the waters at this level, because if 80% of marine litter comes from the land, it is clear that rivers act as the main vector“, He assures.

David León, project coordinator at Hombre y Territorio (HyT).

David León, project coordinator at Hombre y Territorio (HyT).

The origin and characteristics of these microplastics are very diverse, some have a small size in origin (primary) and others have been fragmented or degraded over time (secondary).In urban areas, derivatives of textiles, cosmetics and hygiene; in industrial ones, they come from processes such as the washing of materials or their manipulation; in agricultural areas, they are generated by solar radiation, temperature or rain on objects, and in areas of public use, it can come from cigarette butts, containers or bags.The protocol for detect and characterize microplastics, designed within the framework of the Libera Project, promoted by SEO / BirdLife in alliance with Ecoembes, “it is a simple tool for scientists, technicians, teachers or citizen science entities to design an environmental education or polymer characterization activity”, David states.It consists of the filtering a specific number of liters in a determined time and in different points of the water column in positive or neutral buoyancy, that is to say, in the first centimeters of the water mass, to separate the microplastics that later are identified and analyzed in a laboratory.

David León, project coordinator at Hombre y Territorio (HyT).  EFE / Marisca

David León, project coordinator at Hombre y Territorio (HyT). EFE / Marisca

Make the invisible visible

Miguel Muñoz, coordinator of the Libera Project at SEO / BirdLife, recalls that the most serious problem with microplastics is that, as they have a very high specific surface compared to the mass, they adhere easily chemicals “potentially toxic and bioaccumulative ”.Animals introduce these substances into their trophic chains with consequences at the endocrine or genetic level and viruses or bacteria that adhere to plastics can cause death; “until 376 different taxa or species of pathogens they have been identified associated with microplastics ”.And these end up entering human food chains; “Most likely, we all have fragments in our intestines“, Underlines Miguel Muñoz.From the conservation point of view, “knowing the state of conservation of a river helps to better understand the causes of population declines of species “, as in the 140 IBAs analyzed by the Libera Project; “I’m sure we will be amazed to find it in them,” he says.For Sara Güemes, Libera coordinator at Ecoembes, microplastics are part of that rubbish “imperceptible to the human eye, but which is a very serious problem of which its consequences are not yet known“.Urges not to leave waste in the middle, since “everyone has their container to be able to enter the circular economy”, use natural garments, since synthetic fibers “can release up to 700 million microplastics in a single wash”, or reduce car travel, “Whose tires also give off these residues.”