EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Microplastic accumulation in streambed sediment downstream of a wastewater treatment plant in response to dynamic flow conditions

Jen Drummond1, Uwe Schneidewind1, Nicolai Brekenfeld2, Holly Nel3, Lee Haverson, Anna Kukkola1, Greg Sambrook-Smith, and Stefan Krause
Jen Drummond et al.
  • 1University of Birmingham, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Birmingham, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (
  • 2National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), Rennes, France
  • 3Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), Lowestoft, United Kingdom

Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), are known sources of microplastics (1-1000 µm) to receiving streams. We analyzed surface water and streambed sediments at ~1km downstream of a WWTP in a rural stream near Birmingham, UK. To assess the temporal variation in microplastic transport and accumulation, we conducted a total of five sampling campaigns to sample both during high and low flow conditions. Point sampling was supported by semi-continuous measurements of flow and electrical conductivity to characterize the stream hydrologic conditions, especially in response to the WWTP effluent. We used the high frequency flow data as input to a mobile-immobile model for microplastic transport in streams that can account for the exchange between the surface water and streambed sediments, deposition and resuspension during baseflow and stormflow conditions. By combining the model with the less frequent microplastic measurements, we estimated inputs from the wastewater treatment plant and timescales of microplastic deposition and retention in the stream. Our findings advance the understanding of the interplay between microplastics depositing during low flows and resuspending during high flows, to improve predictions of microplastic fate and transport in river systems.

How to cite: Drummond, J., Schneidewind, U., Brekenfeld, N., Nel, H., Haverson, L., Kukkola, A., Sambrook-Smith, G., and Krause, S.: Microplastic accumulation in streambed sediment downstream of a wastewater treatment plant in response to dynamic flow conditions, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-1285,, 2022.


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