Jan 28, 2019

Study Finds Microplastic Contamination in Illinois Groundwater

The study investigated microplastic contamination in 17 groundwater samples

New study finds microplastic contamination in Illinois groundwater
New study finds microplastic contamination in Illinois groundwater

A new study by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found microplastics fibers in two fractured limestone aquifers in Illinois. The study, published in the journal Groundwater, also identified a variety of medicines and household contaminants in the aquifers.

According to Phys.org, the researchers collected 17 groundwater samples from wells and springs, including 11 from a highly fractured limestone aquifer near St. Louis and six from an aquifer containing smaller fractures in rural northwestern Illinois. The researchers found that all excluding one of the 17 samples contained microplastic particles, with the highest concentration of 15.2 particles per liter found in a spring in the St. Louis area.

"The research on this topic is at a very early stage, so I am not convinced we have a frame of reference to state expectations or bounds on what is considered low or high levels," said Tim Hoellein, a biology professor at Loyola University Chicago and study co-author. "Our questions are still basic – how much is there and where is it coming from?"

The researchers found that the concentrations of microplastics in the groundwater samples were similar to those found in rivers and streams in the Chicago area. The authors also stressed that it was difficult to determine a mean or average concentration because so little research exists on the topic still.

"Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibers find their way into a septic system from just doing a load of laundry," said John Scott, a researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and study co-author. "Then consider the potential for those fluids to leak into the groundwater supply, especially in these types of aquifers where surface water interacts so readily with groundwater."

Read the full report here.