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

DRBC staff collect a water sample from the Delaware Estuary to monitor for microplastics. Photo by DRBC. 
DRBC staff collect a water sample from the Delaware
Estuary to 
monitor for microplastics. Photo by DRBC. 

There are several microplastics studies ongoing or recently completed in the Delaware River Basin (see below). But, they left a portion of the Delaware River Basin – the upper Delaware Estuary from Trenton, N.J. to the C&D Canal – understudied.

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

In 2018, 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.

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.

Four sites in the upper Delaware River Estuary were sampled by boat. Ten tributary sites were sampled by bridge. 

As the non-tidal Delaware River is the largest loading into the Estuary, samples were also collected at the head of tide in Trenton, N.J. (by bridge).

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.

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 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

Several microplastics studies have been conducted or are underway in the Delaware River Basin by the following entities:

Links about Plastic and Microplastics Pollution

Presentations Given