News Feature | February 18, 2016

New York City Waterways Teeming With Microplastic

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A new study shows that the waterways around New York City are teeming with plastics, including microbeads pollution.

“The study estimated there are at least 165 million plastic particles floating in New York Harbor and nearby waters at any given time. The report was based on samples collected by trawlers that plied the city's East River, the mouth of the Hudson River and New Jersey's Passaic River and Raritan Bay between March and August 2015. The average concentration of plastics was 256,322 particles per square kilometer,” the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing the new research.

The study by the environmental group NY/NJ Baykeeper relied on samples from the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary.

The research “uncovered a significant number of preproduction pellets of plastic, also known as nurdles, indicating there is an ongoing influx into Harbor waters. Additionally, the presence of polystyrene foam and blue spherical beads suspected to derive from personal care products, were abundant,” the study said.

“Of the total 6,932 plastic particles counted, approximately 85% of particles counted were microplastics (smaller than 5mm) and 38% were smaller than 1mm. In one East River Sample, approximately 58% of particles counted were smaller than 1mm, the size of a grain of sand. The most abundant types of plastics within the samples were foam (38%) and unidentified fragments (31%),” the study continued.

A previous study by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman indicated that 19 tons of microbeads are released into New York waterways annually.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, spoke to the AP.

“She said reducing plastics and other waste is a priority for the administration. The city Department of Environmental Protection has installed litter-capture devices in sewers that have caught more than 200 tons of litter and debris over the last three years,” according to the news report.

Litter capture devices play a major role in New York City’s efforts to combat water pollution.

“In late 2015 [the city] began the installation of below-ground capture devices at four key locations within the sewer system. The control devices include floating baffles and bending weirs to capture the litter and direct it to a wastewater treatment plant where it can be properly disposed of. Over the last three years, [the city] has installed similar facilities along the Bronx River and the Gowanus Canal and they have captured more than 200 tons of litter and debris. Construction of the Newtown Creek facilities is expected to be completed, and the technology activated, in 2017,” the city said in a statement last month.

For similar stories, visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.