Microplastics are present in every waterway tested across the UK, according to the largest citizen science campaign of its kind which was born in Wales.

Led by Gwynedd educator, Laura Owen Sanderson and the non-profit We Swim Wild organisation, the Waterloggers project monitored rivers, lakes, canals and reservoirs. More than 100 wild swimmers took part in the project, collecting samples in empty glass wine bottles. 

Each four litre sample was tested in the laboratories at Bangor University by PhD scientist Luke Fears, who confirmed microplastics present in every single sample.

Scientists believe the microplastics - anything less than 5mm in size - and nano-plastics that are only visible under a microscope are now present in the air and rainfall. UK waterways are one of the most polluted in Europe, with only 14% passing stringent water quality tests.

The National Wales: Water samples from the Afon Dwyryd in Gwynedd were studied at Bangor UniversityWater samples from the Afon Dwyryd in Gwynedd were studied at Bangor University

The Waterloggers project was completed after Covid travel restrictions had threatened to stop Ms Owen Sanderson's campaign. She said: "We now know that microplastics are infiltrating every aspect of our lives. We breathe in, drink and eat plastic particles every day; and little research has been done to establish what risk that poses to human health.

"This campaign provides a large and unique grassroots dataset for the UK government, as clear evidence that urgent action is needed now".

We Swim Wild Director and Head of Natural Sciences at Bangor University, Dr Christian Dunn said: "This type of citizen engagement on scientific research is essential, as there is no way we could sample this amount of sites by ourselves. The fact we found such high levels of microplastics highlights again the importance for a national monitoring scheme of our rivers and waterways to look at plastic pollution,'

The National Wales: Nicola Harries collected samples from the Afon Taf at Radyr for the Waterloggers projectNicola Harries collected samples from the Afon Taf at Radyr for the Waterloggers project

Aimee Owen, who collected samples from the River Usk, said: "We get so much enjoyment from these wild places for our health and wellbeing, that we naturally want to protect what we love, and do what we can to look after these waters."

Waterlogger and caver, Rebecca Price, who collected the samples deep underground, said: "The cave sample was taken from an underground waterfall which filters through natural rock. I'm shocked to find that nano and micro fibres were found that deep underground."

Rebecca also collected the samples with the highest number of microplastics at 156 pieces per litre in the River Nene, Northamptonshire, where she regularly swims. She said: "The Nene has had very bad reports about its water quality in recent years. These results focus on microplastics and highlight another toxic silent contaminant choking our beautiful river."

READ MORE: Microplastic pollution discovered on summit of Yr Wyddfa

The organisation We Swim Wild said it hoped the research would put the scientific power for change in the hands of the water users.

The Waterloggers team of wild swimmers will now participate in a 12 month study to test for various invisible contaminates in UK waterways.

The next phase of the project will allow citizen science to test for sewage, chemicals and microplastic pollution.

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