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Microplastic contamination in drinking water treatment plants


Although it is known that freshwater resources are contaminated with microplastics (MPs), still limited information is known about the efficiency of large drinking water treatment plants (DWTP) to remove microplastics. Moreover, reported concentrations of MPs in drinking water variates from some units to thousands of units per litre and the sampling volumes used for MPs analysis are generally heterogeneous and limited. The present study evaluates the removal of MPs and synthetic fibres in the main DWTP of Geneva, Switzerland, by considering large sampling volumes at different time intervals. Furthermore, contrary to other studies, this DWTP does not count with a clarification process before sand filtration and coagulated water is sent directly to sand filtration. In this study a distinction is made between microplastics as fragments, films, pellets, and synthetic fibres. Raw water and effluents of each filtering mass (sand and activated carbon filtration) are analysed for the presence of MPs and synthetic fibres with sizes ≥63 μm using infrared spectroscopy. Concentrations of MPs in raw water range from 25.7 to 55.6 MPs/m3 and in treated water from 0 to 4 MPs/m3, respectively. Results show that 70 % of MPs are retained during sand filtration and total removal is equal to 97 % in treated water after activated carbon filtration. Concentration of identified synthetic fibres is low (average value of 2 synthetic fibres/m3) and constant in all steps of water treatment. Chemical composition of microplastics and synthetic fibres is found more heterogeneous in raw water than after sand filtration and activated carbon filtration, indicating the persistence of some types of plastics (like polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate) in water treatment processes. Heterogeneities in MP concentrations are observed from one sampling campaign to another, indicating significant variations of MP concentrations in raw water.

Negrete Velasco, A.D.J., Ramseier Gentile, S., Zimmerman, S., Le Coustumer, P., and Stoll, S. Contamination and removal efficiency of microplastics and synthetic fibres in a conventional drinking water treatment plant in Geneva, Switzerland: Science of the total environment, v. 880, p. 163270.

17 Apr 2023

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