Significant presence of micro-plastics in the Ganga: Study

Micro-plastics are defined as plastics less than 5 mm in length and recognized as a major source of marine pollution due to their persistence, ubiquity and toxic potential

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Representative image
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IANS

The Ganga river is polluted with multiple kinds of plastic, with the highest concentration at Varanasi, and micro-plastics samples being found at Haridwar, Kanpur and Varanasi, a new study by Toxics Link has found.

Micro-plastics are defined as plastics less than 5 mm in length and recognized as a major source of marine pollution due to their persistence, ubiquity and toxic potential.

Plastic products and waste material released or dumped in the river break down and are eventually reduced to micro particles and the river finally transports significantly large quantities downstream into the ocean which is the ultimate sink of all plastics being used by humans. "Essentially all along micro-plastics are flowing into the river system. It does reflect or suggest a direct linkage between the poor state of both solid and liquid waste management; hence it is critically important to initiate steps to remediate it," said Priti Mahesh, Chief Coordinator at Toxics Link.

The study, 'Quantitative analysis of Micro-plastics along River Ganga', that was released by Delhi-based NGO Toxics Link on Thursday, said the river water was found to be polluted with multiple kinds of plastic, the highest concentration being found at Varanasi, comprising of single-use and secondary plastic products.

Toxics Link carried out the river water testing in collaboration with the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa and a set of five water samples was collected from the river at Haridwar, Kanpur and Varanasi. The results show the presence of significantly high (40) different kinds of polymers as micro-plastics in the Ganga water.

Untreated sewage from many cities along the river's course, industrial waste and religious offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastic add large amounts of pollutants to the river as it flows through many cities that are densely populated, Toxics Link said in a statement.

"Haridwar resulted in the lowest number of MPs/m3 (1.30-0.518) as compared to other two locations, Varanasi and Kanpur. The most frequent size range observed in all the samples was <300 micron unit," shared Dr Mahua Saha, the lead researcher from NIO.

There are reports that also suggest that micro-plastics can pass through the filtration systems and finally land up in our body. Discarded plastic waste contributes to marine pollution with devastating consequences for marine life and the habitats they depend on and affects the food web due to uptake of MPs by marine organisms. More than 663 species are affected adversely due to marine debris and 11% of them are said to be related to micro-plastic ingestion alone. These micro-plastics being drained from the river system into oceans can cause serious imbalance in the marine-ecosystem and food web, the release said.


Though plastic waste management rules have been in force in the country their implementation remains poor. Improving implementation of the Plastic Rules, along with enforcing a stricter ban on single-use plastics is a critical need. Also, there is requirement for more data and research on micro-plastics and their impact on our river systems.

"We need to address the threat of plastic on aquatic life more realistically and with a futuristic eye. Various stakeholders, including the industry, government, civil society organisations, need to join hands for improving plastic waste management and the subsequent reduction in micro-plastic pollution", stated Satish Sinha, Associate Director at Toxics Link.

Micro-plastic pollution in the Ganga can have many ramifications, as its water is used for various purposes which can lead to severe impact on the environment as well as human health. The river is the major source of drinking water for cities situated along its banks and micro-plastics pollution is a cause of concern.

Other key findings from the study are: Fragments were the predominant shape in all locations followed by film and fibre. A slight difference was observed in Kanpur as fibres were more abundant than films; the most frequent size range observed in all the samples was <300 micron unit; black and brown coloured particles were found to be more in number followed by coloured particles in all the three locations. Dominance of black coloured particles suggests its origin from abrasion of tyres; several types of rubber (butadiene, poly-isoprene, natural rubber) were abundantly found in the river; 40 different types of polymers were found during analysis.

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