Buoyant microplastics in freshwater sediments - How do they get there?

Sci Total Environ. 2023 Feb 20:860:160489. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.160489. Epub 2022 Nov 28.


The accumulation of microplastics (MPs) in the sediments of a stormwater treatment pond was studied to gain knowledge on how these facilities protect the natural environment against this emerging pollutant. Thirteen sediment samples were analyzed for MPs down to 10 μm, mapping the pattern of accumulation in the pond. The average abundance in terms of MP-number and mass was 11.8 μg kg-1 and 44,383 item kg-1, respectively. They were rather unevenly distributed, with concentrations varying up to two orders of magnitude within the pond, showing that a trustworthy quantification of MPs retained by such units must rely on many and well-distributed subsamples. Buoyant MPs made up 95.4 % of the MP-mass and 83.5 % of the MP-number and in most of the sampled locations, polypropylene dominated the polymer fingerprint, followed by polyethylene. No spatial pattern in the distribution of MPs in the pond was identified. Instead, the MP content correlated to the organic matter and silt content, indicating that the processes leading to deposition could be similar. A computational fluid dynamics model was set up and used to simulate the transport mechanisms governing the conveyance of MPs in the pond from water to sediments. The results showed that the combination of advection and dispersion were likely the driving mechanism for buoyant (and non-buoyant) MPs to get in contact with the sediment bed and spread over the pond. Once in contact with the sediments, the MPs would have some probability of being permanently incorporated and hereby preventing them from entering the downstream aquatic environment.

Keywords: Buoyant MPs; CFD; Sediments; Stormwater ponds.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Fresh Water
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Microplastics
  • Plastics
  • Rain
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Purification*
  • Water Supply


  • Microplastics
  • Plastics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical