Other Monitoring Programs & Studies
Microplastics
Microplastics as seen under the microscope by University of Delaware researchers. Photo courtesy of the Univ. of Delaware. 
As seen under the microscope: microplastics
collected 
from the Delaware Bay by
University of Delaware 
researchers.
Photo courtesy of the University of Delaware.
 

What are Microplastics?

Plastic is perhaps the most prevalent and persistent type of debris found in our oceans, rivers and large lakes.

Plastic pollution is found in all shapes and sizes, but plastic debris less than five millimeters in length (or about the size of a sesame seed) is known as "microplastics."

These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in receiving waters.

Over time, larger plastics degrade into microplastics, but microplastics also include originally manufactured products such as the following:

 ♦ Microbeads, found in cosmetics and personal care products (such as toothpaste);

 ♦ Industrial scrubbers used for abrasive blast cleaning;

 ♦ Microfibers, generated from washing synthetic clothing made of polyester and nylon; and

 ♦ Resin pellets used in the plastic manufacturing process.

Not much is known to date about microplastics and their impacts on human health and aquatic life.

DRBC Microplastics Study

In 2018, the DRBC received a grant from the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund to monitor for microplastics and model loadings of microplastics in the upper Delaware River Estuary from Trenton, N.J. to the C & D Canal.

This reach of river is largely urbanized and is likely a major contributor to microplastics found in the estuary and bay.

Samples were collected in spring and fall 2019, with additional samples collected in 2020 and 2021. Samples were collected via net, grab sample or Niskin sampler.

A total of 15 sites were sampled: four Delaware River Estuary sites (by boat), the Delaware River at Trenton, N.J. (by bridge) and 10 tidal Delaware River tributaries. The non-tidal Delaware River is the largest loading into the Estuary, which is why samples were collected at the head of tide at Trenton.

Map of DRBC Microplastics Study Sites. Map by DRBC.
View larger map of DRBC Microplastics Study Sites (jpg)

All samples are being analyzed by Temple University for microplastic concentrations. Samples are filtered and sediment and organic matter removed. Microplastics found in the samples are then analyzed using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. 

Data collected will be used to model microplastic dynamics in the Estuary.

Plastic pollution along Philadelphia's Frankford Creek. This is one of the monitoring sites in DRBC's study. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collect a water sample from the Delaware Estuary to monitor for microplastics. Photo by DRBC.
Plastic pollution along Philadelphia's Frankford Creek. This is one of the tributary monitoring sites in DRBC's study. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collect a water sample from the Delaware
Estuary to 
monitor for microplastics. Photo by DRBC. 
DRBC staff collects a sample to monitor microplastics ocncentrations from the Assunpink Creek. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collects a sample from the Neshaminy Creek to monitor for microplastics. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collects a flow measurement from the Neshaminy Creek during a sampling event for microplastics. Photo  by DRBC.
DRBC staff collects a sample from the
Assunpink Creek to monitor for
microplastics. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collects a sample from the
Neshaminy Creek to monitor for
microplastics. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff measures flow and collects
a sample from the Neshaminy Creek
to monitor
for microplastics.
Photo by DRBC.

• Presentations Given

This grant-funded project will provide greater detail into the concentrations of microplastics and how they are distributed in this section of the Basin.

It will also inform about which source tributaries are introducing the most microplastics, which will be targeted for cleanup efforts.

• Cleaning Up Plastic Pollution

Cleaning up large plastic debris prevents fish and wildlife from becoming entangled in objects like cords, fishing line, nets and beverage containers.

On a finer scale, removing these debris before they have a chance to break down will reduce the presence of microplastics and lower the risk of other harmful chemicals entering the Basin’s waters.

These cleanup efforts will also provide outreach opportunities to educate the public about the complex problems associated with plastics and microplastics.

This study will lay the groundwork for future microplastics monitoring and cleanup efforts in the Basin and beyond.

Other Microplastics Studies in the DRB

There are several microplastics studies ongoing or recently completed in the Delaware River Basin by the following entities:

Links about Plastic and Microplastics Pollution