High microplastic particle pollution found in Hungary's 'Blue' Danube

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Photo by Wessling Group Danube water samples showed an average concentration of 45 plastic particles per cubic metre at the Megyeri Bridge just upstream of Budapest

An environmental study of river pollution levels across Hungary has detected a high concentration of plastic particles in the waters of the River Danube around Budapest.

Measurements taken by Wessling Hungary, an offshoot of the German environmental health and engineering consultant Wessling GmbH, found an average of 50 microplastic particles per cubic metre near the capital.

Particles detected in water samples taken in tests ranged from 60 micrometres to 2mm in size, consisting mainly of polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene used in consumer goods and packaging materials, Wessling reported.

A preliminary report presented in October by Wessling Hungary and its project partners showed that the pollution in the country was similar to that already identified in rivers in other European countries.

The findings of water sampling and laboratory analysis are part of a project to monitor microplastic levels found in the surface waters of Europe’s second longest river and its tributaries in Hungary launched in Spring 2018.

Danube water samples showed an average concentration of 45 plastic particles per cubic metre at the Megyeri Bridge just upstream of Budapest while south of the capital at Csepel Freeport the level rose to 55 particles per cubic metre.

“These results mean that the capital, with its large population, surface runoff and sewage treatment plants, is a major source of microplastic pollution,” reported Wessling.

As for Danube tributaries, the Parányi Plasztiktalány (Tiny Plastic Puzzle) project detected a level of just 1.7 microplastic particles per cubic metre in the Ipoly River which flows through a national park southwards from Slovakia.

Traces of common plastics such as PP and smaller amounts of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) were still found in lower levels in the Ipoly samples, Wessling reported.

Meanwhile, in the west of the country a much higher concentration of microplastic, 12.7 particles per cubic metre, was detected in another tributary, the River Rába, flowing into Hungary from Austria. This means that up to 20.7 million particles flow through the Rába daily, Wessling suggested.

The report pointed out an interesting finding in this plastic pollution against material concentration discovered in other river tributaries.  Instead of packaging and consumer waste, Wessling found the microplastics came from technical plastics used in electronics and precision component production from material such as polyoxymethylene or polyacetal (POM).

Water samples taken from Hungary’s longest river, the Tisza which flows in eastern Hungary from its source in Ukraine, only joining the Danube downstream in Serbia, showed 4.9 microplastic particles larger than 300 μm per cubic metre at Dombrád in the east. These were again from polyolefins and PS packaging and other consumer products, the project found. 

“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,” stressed Wessling.  

It highlighted the growing problem “for man and nature” of plastics pollution in rivers and oceans and the still largely unexplored effects of microplastic particles on flora and fauna.

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