BAM research project aims to more accurately detect microplastics in the water

A new joint research project headed by the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM) wants to find out how microplastics end up in the water. The project aims to optimise representative water and wastewater sampling procedures. Representative samples are key to accurately determining the sources of microplastics, so that avoidance strategies can be developed.

The occurrence of plastic particles in the environment has been observed for over 40 years. In recent years, attention has shifted to their decomposition products, known as microplastics. So far, there is no reliable data on sources, occurrence and the effects of microplastics on humans and the ecosystem. However, it is certain that microplastics can be found almost everywhere in the environment.

This is where the project Representative Research Strategies for an Integrative System Understanding of Specific Inputs of Plastics into the Environment (RUSEKU) comes into play. By early 2021 the joint project aims to have developed new methods for better and faster measuring microplastics content across the different parts of the water cycle. The main focus is on the sampling methods.

Current sampling methods are not designed for plastics and often give erroneous results when determining the microplastics, said BAM scientist Dr. Ulrike Braun, head of the RUSEKU project. We want to develop a reliable and practical method for water sampling that also works with our proven microplastics analysis technology. This is the only way we can collect the necessary data that can prevent future microplastics entering the waters.

Braun and her cooperation partners want to test and assess the recovery rate for various sizes and shapes of microplastic particles both in the laboratory and in simulation systems. The team also aims to develop numerical calculations that can predict the dynamics and vertical distribution of microplastic particles in turbulent waters. The new methods are being tested in real sewage systems in Kaiserslautern.

In addition to BAM, seven research institutions and three medium-sized enterprises participate in this research project. RUSEKU is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the Plastics in the environment research focus.