Ingestion of Microplastics by Freshwater Tubifex Worms

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Microplastic contamination of the aquatic environment is a global issue. Microplastics can be ingested by organisms leading to negative physiological impacts. The ingestion of microplastics by freshwater invertebrates has not been reported outside the laboratory. Here we demonstrate the ingestion of microplastic particles by Tubifex tubifex from bottom sediments in a major urban waterbody fed by the River Irwell, Manchester, UK. The host sediments had microplastic concentrations ranging from 56 to 2543 particles kg-1. 87% of the Tubifex-ingested microplastic particles were microfibres (55 - 4100 µm in length), whilst the remaining 13% were microplastic fragments (50 - 4500 µm in length). FT-IR analysis revealed ingestion of a range of polymer types, including polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) and acrylic fibres. Whilst microbeads were present in the host sediment matrix, they were not detected in Tubifex worm tissue. The mean concentration of ingested microplastics was 129 ± 65.4 particles g-1 tissue. We also show that Tubifex worms retain microplastics longer than other components of the ingested sediment matrix. Microplastic ingestion by Tubifex worms poses a significant risk for trophic transfer and biomagnification of microplastics up the aquatic food chain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12844-12851
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number21
Early online date11 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2017


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