Thanks to the measurements of the Hungarian and German WESSLING laboratories, another successful project, the Tiny Plastic Puzzle project, was concluded with important results.

50 microplastic particles per cubic meter in the river Danube

Of the Hungarian rivers investigated so far, the highest microplastics concentration were found in the river Danube: 50 ± 7.07 particles per cubic meter, corresponding to 0.05 particles per liter. The size of the particles was between 60 micrometers and 2 mm. To learn about the effects of the microplastic contamination, it will be necessary to collect more data and establish monitoring programs.

Thanks to the measurements of the Hungarian and German WESSLING laboratories, another successful project, the Tiny Plastic Puzzle project, was concluded with important results. The Tiny Plastic Puzzle project was launched in 2018 by WESSLING Hungary Kft., a member of the international WESSLING Group, in order to examine the microplastic levels of the river Danube and its tributaries. The results were reported at the project conference held at the WESSLING Knowledge Center in Budapest in October.

Plastics are becoming an increasingly major problem for man and nature: in the environment, the ocean and rivers, plastics disintegrate and form microplastics, particles or plastic particulates measuring one micrometer to five millimeters in size. They contaminate the environment; their effects on the flora and fauna are largely unexplored.

WESSLING is one of the few laboratories with the necessary know-how and equipment for analyzing microplastics in water and sediments, in foods, beverages or cosmetics. Together with partners from industry and science, our team of experts is driving forward the research on microplastics. WESSLING is actively involved in important research projects, in Hungary as well as in European projects in Germany. Here, WESSLING along with other partners, is using new methods to investigate how microplastics enter the environment and how the particles affect living organisms.

The Tiny Plastic Puzzle (TPP) project

The results of earlier samplings and laboratory analyses have already drawn attention to the fact that, similarly to the findings of European measurements, it can be assumed that microplastics are present in the surface waters of Hungary as well. (Based on the measurements of WESSLING, the river Tisza contained 4.9 plastic particles larger than 300 µm per cubic meter at Dombrád, while 23.1 particles per cubic meter larger than 100 µm were found in the sample taken from Lake Tisza-tó.) The plastic particles detected were typically made of the widely used polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

In the course of the Tiny Plastic Puzzle project, samples were first taken from the Ipoly, where 1.7 particles per cubic meter were detected. The relatively low level of microplastics is presumably due to the fact that the river mainly meanders through the area of a national park, far from industrial and urban influences. Both most common plastics (e.g., polypropylene) and those produced in smaller amounts (for example, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, ABS, used for toys and dashboards) could be detected.

The number of microplastic particles detected by WESSLING Hungary Kft. in the Rába was much higher (12.1 particles per cubic meter). This could mean that up to 20.7 million particles per day may flow through the river. What is interesting is that these particles were not made of the widely used materials, also detected in the catchment area of the Tisza, but of materials used for precision components and electronics products (e.g., polyoxymethylene).

In average, 50 particles ± 7.07 in 1 m3 of water! – the results of the two measurements on the Danube can be summed up this way. This is by far the highest value obtained in Hungarian measurements. With the help, provided during sampling, of the General Directorate of Water Management, on average, 45 particles were detected in 1 m3 of water north of Budapest, at the Megyeri Bridge, and 55 particles at the southern sampling transect, South of Budapest, at the Csepel Freeport. This means that there was an increased concentration in the section below Budapest. This can be related to the high population density characteristic of large cities, since both surface unoff and sewage treatment plants can be major sources of microplastics.

As for the material types of the microplastic particles identified in the Danube, similarly to previous measurements in Hungary, polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, used for consumer goods and packaging materials, could be detected in the largest amounts.

The most important result of the TPP project is that it drew attention to the fact that, unfortunately, microplastics are clearly present in surface waters in Hungary. In addition, our corporate group showed an excellent example of how laboratories operating at different sites in different countries can cooperate with the greatest possible efficiency.

 

In our research project "Tyre Wear in the Environment" WESSLING is determining, together with other partners, how microparticles from tyres enter the environment in Germany. In the “MicroPlastiCarrier” research project funded by the European Fund for Regional Development (ERDF), WESSLING is investigating the impact of microplastics on people and the environment. In addition to collecting, preparing and delivering samples, WESSLING and the project partners are working on the human and ecotoxicological evaluation of the effects of microplastic particles on aquatic organisms and humans.

Another research project is also running in Hungary, titled „Development of freshwater microplastic sampling and sample preparation methods” (Project no. KFI_16-1-2017-0477). It is being implemented with the support provided by the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary.