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Microplastic in Osun river alarmingly high

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By Usman Oladimeji

22,079 pieces of microplastics in just one litre of water from the river.

A recent study has discovered a dangerously high levels of microplastics in the Osun river, posing a potential health risk to those who use the river. The study revealed an alarming 22,079 pieces of microplastic in just one litre of water from the river. It is important for Osun river users to be mindful of this environmental hazard. The shocking discovery at the Osun river has raised concerns due to its exceptionally high levels of microplastics, surpassing 267 global studies on microplastics in river water conducted since 1994.

Fish in the river are also consuming alarming levels of microplastics. Scientists worldwide have become increasingly concerned about the prevalence of microplastics and their impact on both animals and humans over the past ten years. Microplastics are minuscule fragments of plastic, measuring less than 5mm, that primarily stem from the gradual decomposition of plastic refuse in nature. Additionally, a portion of these particles enters the environment via personal hygiene containers such as exfoliants, lotions, and toothpaste.

All the water and sediment samples contain microplastics.

The rise in plastic production worldwide has contributed to the spread of microplastics in the environment. The invention of synthetic plastics in the early 1900s led to a surge in production, growing from 2 million tons in 1950 to more than 450 million tons by 2023. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), approximately 14 million tons of plastic end up in marine ecosystems each year as discarded waste. In order to evaluate the presence of microplastics in the Osun river, a total of five sampling stations were strategically placed across the city.

In different locations along the river, samples were collected: two near the edge of the city, two in the center, and one farther out downstream. At each station, samples of water and the sediment beneath it were taken. It was discovered that microplastics were present in all water and sediment samples, as well as in every fish that was examined. All six varieties of fish found in the river are safe to eat and are commonly sold to consumers in Nigeria. Researchers collected 58 fish samples from the river and examined the level of microplastics in their gastro-intestinal tracts to assess contamination levels.

Aquatic life is threatened by the presence of microplastics.

Every fish sample tested contained a high concentration of microplastics, with numbers ranging from 407 to 1,691 particles per fish. This surpasses the levels found in fish from other African rivers. For instance, the highest amount found in Nile River tilapia was 47 microplastics per fish. Water samples collected from different areas showed a wide range of microplastics concentrations, from 3,791 to 22,079 particles per litre. Similarly, river sediments contained anywhere from 392 to 1,590 particles per kilogram. The highest concentration of microplastics in the water was recorded near the city center, where a significant amount of plastic waste was also observed in the river.

Moreover, the presence of microplastics in the Osun River not only impacts human health but also poses risks to the diversity of aquatic life. These tiny particles create an environment that hinders the growth and development of fish and other aquatic species. Consuming fish from the river can lead to the ingestion of microplastics, which can be transferred to humans. Despite this concern, fish from the river are still being sold to the public directly. Also, crops that are watered with this river’s water may absorb microplastics in their roots, ultimately hindering their growth.

Related Article: Menace of plastic waste in Nigeria

Plant tissues can also absorb microplastics, creating a new pathway for humans and animals to be exposed to these harmful particles. The study’s results highlight the extent of plastic pollution in Nigeria’s inland waters. This pollution presents a major obstacle to the government’s blue-economy agenda, by expanding the nation’s economy through water-based industries. Putting an end to this pollution demands the establishment of a thriving plastic recycling sector and the prohibition of certain disposable plastics.

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