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Microplastic concentrations in river water and bed sediments in a tropical river: implications for water quality monitoring

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Recent increase in awareness of the extent of microplastic contamination in marine and freshwater systems has heightened concerns over the ecological and human health risks of this ubiquitous material. Assessing risks posed by microplastic in freshwater systems requires sampling to establish contamination levels, but standard sampling protocols have yet to be established. An important question is whether sampling and assessment should focus on microplastic concentrations in the water or the amount deposited on the bed. On three dates, five replicated water and bed sediment samples were collected from each of the eight sites along the upper reach of the Semenyih River, Malaysia. Microplastics were found in all 160 samples, with mean concentrations of 3.12 ± 2.49 particles/L in river water and 6027.39 ± 16,585.87 particles/m2 deposited on the surface of riverbed sediments. Fibres were the dominant type of microplastic in all samples, but fragments made up a greater proportion of the material on the bed than in the water. Within-site variability in microplastic abundance was high for both water and bed sediments, and very often greater than between-site variability. Patterns suggest that microplastic accumulation on the bed is spatially variable, and single samples are therefore inadequate for assessing bed contamination levels at a site. Sites with the highest mean concentrations in samples of water were not those with the highest concentrations on the bed, indicating that monitoring based only on water samples may not provide a good picture of either relative or absolute bed contamination levels, nor the risks posed to benthic organisms.

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Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors thank the University of Nottingham Malaysia for generously funding the lead author’s PhD and Yong Sin Ng for her help with data collection.

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Authors and Affiliations



Hui Ling Chen: conceptualisation, methodology, formal analysis, investigation, visualisation, writing—original draft; Sivathass Bannir Selvam: conceptualisation, supervision, writing—review and editing; Kang Nee Ting: conceptualisation, supervision, writing—review and editing; Christopher Neil Gibbins: conceptualisation, methodology, supervision, writing—review and editing. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sivathass Bannir Selvam.

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Chen, H.L., Selvam, S.B., Ting, K.N. et al. Microplastic concentrations in river water and bed sediments in a tropical river: implications for water quality monitoring. Environ Monit Assess 195, 307 (2023).

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