Assessment of microplastics and potentially toxic elements in surface sediments of the River Kelvin, Central Scotland, United Kingdom

Shokunbi, Oluwatosin Sarah and Idowu, Gideon Aina and Aiyesanmi, Ademola Festus and Davidson, Christine Margaret (2024) Assessment of microplastics and potentially toxic elements in surface sediments of the River Kelvin, Central Scotland, United Kingdom. Environmental Management, 73 (5). 932–945. ISSN 0364-152X (

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Contamination of the environment by microplastics (MPs), polymer particles of <5 mm in diameter, is an emerging concern globally due to their ubiquitous nature, interactions with pollutants, and adverse effects on aquatic organisms. The majority of studies have focused on marine environments, with freshwater systems only recently attracting attention. The current study investigated the presence, abundance, and distribution of MPs and potentially toxic elements (PTEs) in sediments of the River Kelvin, Scotland, UK. Sediment samples were collected from eight sampling points along the river and were extracted by density separation with NaCl solution. Extracted microplastics were characterised for shape and colour, and the polymer types were determined through attenuated total reflectance-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. Pollution status and ecological risks were assessed for both the microplastics and PTEs. Abundance of MPs generally increased from the most upstream location (Queenzieburn, 50.0 ± 17.3 particles/kg) to the most downstream sampling point (Kelvingrove Museum, 244 ± 19.2 particles/kg). Fibres were most abundant at all sampling locations, with red, blue, and black being the predominant colours found. Larger polymer fragments were identified as polypropylene and polyethylene. Concentrations of Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn exceeded Scottish background soil values at some locations. Principal component and Pearson’s correlation analyses suggest that As, Cr, Pb and Zn emanated from the same anthropogenic sources. Potential ecological risk assessment indicates that Cd presents a moderate risk to organisms at one location. This study constitutes the first co-investigation of MPs and PTEs in a river system in Scotland.