Skip to main content

Investigation of Microplastics in Freshwater Mussels (Lasmigona costata) From the Grand River Watershed in Ontario, Canada


Microplastics have been identified as a widespread, persistent environmental pollutant. The investigation of microplastics in marine ecosystems has been prevalent in the literature; however, much less consideration has been given to this form of pollution in freshwater ecosystems. Relatively few studies have considered the uptake of microplastics in freshwater mussels. This study investigated the presence of microplastics in fluted-shell mussels (Lasmigona costata) collected from various sites in the Grand River watershed, Southern Ontario’s largest watershed and home to one million people. The soft tissue of adult mussels underwent enzyme digestion, followed by filtration to isolate undigested particles. Particles were removed and analyzed using Raman spectroscopy to determine their composition. Ten different polymers were identified in the sampled mussels, with polypropylene-co-polyethylene being the most prevalent. Microplastic particles were detected in 71% of mussels with the greatest number of particles observed in a single mussel being seven. No significant difference in microplastic particles per mussel was observed among the different sites sampled. A significant positive relationship between particles per mussel and size of upstream catchment was observed, but a relationship between particles per mussel and percentage of urban land use was not observed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  • Almroth, B. M. C., Åström, L., Roslund, S., Petersson, H., Johansson, M., & Persson, N. K. (2018). Quantifying shedding of synthetic fibers from textiles; a source of microplastics released into the environment. Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

  • American Chemistry Council. (2019). ACC Resin Statistics Annual Summary 2017 vs. 2018. Accessed 15 Aug 2019.

  • Andrady, A. L., & Neal, M. A. (2009). Applications and societal benefits of plastics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

  • Arthur, C., Baker, J., & Bamford, H. (2009). Proceedings of the International Research Workshop on the Occurrence , Effects , and Fate of Microplastic Marine Debris. Group.

  • Au, S. Y., Bruce, T. F., Bridges, W. C., & Klaine, S. J. (2015). Responses of Hyalella azteca to acute and chronic microplastic exposures. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

  • Avio, C. G., Gorbi, S., Milan, M., Benedetti, M., Fattorini, D., D’Errico, G., et al. (2015). Pollutants bioavailability and toxicological risk from microplastics to marine mussels. Environmental Pollution.

  • Baldwin, A. K., Corsi, S. R., & Mason, S. A. (2016). Plastic debris in 29 Great Lakes tributaries: Relations to watershed attributes and hydrology. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Beck, K., & Neves, R. J. (2003). An evaluation of selective feeding by three age-groups of the rainbow mussel Villosa iris. North American Journal of Aquaculture.

  • Berglund, E., Fogelberg, V., Nilsson, P. A., & Hollander, J. (2019). Microplastics in a freshwater mussel (Anodonta anatina) in Northern Europe. Science of the Total Environment.

  • Birnstiel, S., Soares-Gomes, A., & da Gama, B. A. P. (2019). Depuration reduces microplastic content in wild and farmed mussels. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Bollmann, U. E., Simon, M., Vollertsen, J., & Bester, K. (2019). Assessment of input of organic micropollutants and microplastics into the Baltic Sea by urban waters. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Browne, M. A., Galloway, T., & Thompson, R. (2007). Microplastic-an emerging contaminant of potential concern? Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.

  • Browne, M. A., Dissanayake, A., Galloway, T. S., Lowe, D. M., & Thompson, R. C. (2008). Ingested microscopic plastic translocates to the circulatory system of the mussel, Mytilus edulis (L.). Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Browne, M. A., Crump, P., Niven, S. J., Teuten, E., Tonkin, A., Galloway, T., & Thompson, R. (2011). Accumulation of microplastic on shorelines woldwide: Sources and sinks. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Burns, E. E., & Boxall, A. B. A. (2018). Microplastics in the aquatic environment: Evidence for or against adverse impacts and major knowledge gaps. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

  • Catarino, A. I., Thompson, R., Sanderson, W., & Henry, T. B. (2017). Development and optimization of a standard method for extraction of microplastics in mussels by enzyme digestion of soft tissues. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

  • Catarino, A. I., Macchia, V., Sanderson, W. G., Thompson, R. C., & Henry, T. B. (2018). Low levels of microplastics (MP) in wild mussels indicate that MP ingestion by humans is minimal compared to exposure via household fibres fallout during a meal. Environmental Pollution.

  • Corcoran, P. L., Belontz, S. L., Ryan, K., & Walzak, M. J. (2020). Factors controlling the distribution of microplastic particles in benthic sediment of the Thames River, Canada. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • de Sá, L. C., Oliveira, M., Ribeiro, F., Rocha, T. L., & Futter, M. N. (2018). Studies of the effects of microplastics on aquatic organisms: What do we know and where should we focus our efforts in the future? Science of the Total Environment.

  • Dean, B. Y., Corcoran, P. L., & Helm, P. A. (2018). Factors influencing microplastic abundances in nearshore, tributary and beach sediments along the Ontario shoreline of Lake Erie. Journal of Great Lakes Research.

  • Della Torre, C., Bergami, E., Salvati, A., Faleri, C., Cirino, P., Dawson, K. A., & Corsi, I. (2014). Accumulation and embryotoxicity of polystyrene nanoparticles at early stage of development of sea urchin embryos Paracentrotus lividus. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Derraik, J. G. B. (2002). The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: A review. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Eerkes-Medrano, D., Thompson, R. C., & Aldridge, D. C. (2015). Microplastics in freshwater systems: A review of the emerging threats, identification of knowledge gaps and prioritisation of research needs. Water Research.

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada. (2014). Wastewater pollution. Retrieved from:

  • EPA, US. (2000). Estuarine and coastal marine waters : Bioassessment and biocriteria technical guidance. Technology.

  • Eriksen, M., Mason, S., Wilson, S., Box, C., Zellers, A., Edwards, W., et al. (2013). Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Erni-Cassola, G., Zadjelovic, V., Gibson, M. I., & Christie-Oleza, J. A. (2019). Distribution of plastic polymer types in the marine environment; A meta-analysis. Journal of Hazardous Materials.

  • Gillis, P. L. (2012). Cumulative impacts of urban runoff and municipal wastewater effluents on wild freshwater mussels (Lasmigona costata). Science of the Total Environment.

  • Grabarkiewicz, J. D., & Davis, W. S. (2008). An introduction to freshwater mussels as biological indicators. Environmental Protection.

  • Grand River Conservation Authority. (2018). Wastewater. Retrieved from Grand River Conservation Authority website: Accessed 20 Aug 2019.

  • Grbić, J., Helm, P., Athey, S., & Rochman, C. M. (2020). Microplastics entering northwestern Lake Ontario are diverse and linked to urban sources. Water Research.

  • Haag, W. R. (2012). North American freshwater mussels: Natural history, ecology, and conservation. North American Freshwater Mussels: Natural History, Ecology, and Conservation.

  • Hoffman, M. J., & Hittinger, E. (2017). Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Imhof, H. K., Schmid, J., Niessner, R., Ivleva, N. P., & Laforsch, C. (2012). A novel, highly efficient method for the separation and quantification of plastic particles in sediments of aquatic environments. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods.

  • Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., et al. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science.

  • Käppler, A., Windrich, F., Löder, M. G. J., Malanin, M., Fischer, D., Labrenz, M., et al. (2015). Identification of microplastics by FTIR and Raman microscopy: A novel silicon filter substrate opens the important spectral range below 1300 cm−1 for FTIR transmission measurements. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.

  • Koelmans, A. A., Besseling, E., & Shim, W. J. (2015). Nanoplastics in the aquatic environment. Critical review. In Marine Anthropogenic Litter.

  • Kolandhasamy, P., Su, L., Li, J., Qu, X., Jabeen, K., & Shi, H. (2018). Adherence of microplastics to soft tissue of mussels: A novel way to uptake microplastics beyond ingestion. Science of the Total Environment.

  • Lebreton, L. C. M., Van Der Zwet, J., Damsteeg, J. W., Slat, B., Andrady, A., & Reisser, J. (2017). River plastic emissions to the world’s oceans. Nature Communications.

  • Lenaker, P. L., Baldwin, A. K., Corsi, S. R., Mason, S. A., Reneau, P. C., & Scott, J. W. (2019). Vertical distribution of microplastics in the water column and surficial sediment from the Milwaukee River basin to Lake Michigan. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Li, J., Green, C., Reynolds, A., Shi, H., & Rotchell, J. M. (2018). Microplastics in mussels sampled from coastal waters and supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Environmental Pollution.

  • Luo, W., Su, L., Craig, N. J., Du, F., Wu, C., & Shi, H. (2019). Comparison of microplastic pollution in different water bodies from urban creeks to coastal waters. Environmental Pollution.

  • Lusher, A. L., Welden, N. A., Sobral, P., & Cole, M. (2017a). Sampling, isolating and identifying microplastics ingested by fish and invertebrates. Analytical Methods.

  • Lusher, A., Hollman, P., & Mandoza-Hill, J.J. (2017b). Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture. FAO fisheries and aquaculture technical paper.

  • Lusher, A., Bråte, I. L. N., Hurley, R., Iversen, K., & Olsen, M. (2017c). Testing of methodology for measuring microplastics in blue mussels (Mytilus spp) and sediments, and recommendations for future monitoring of microplastics (R & D-project).

    Google Scholar 

  • McNeish, R. E., Kim, L. H., Barrett, H. A., Mason, S. A., Kelly, J. J., & Hoellein, T. J. (2018). Microplastic in riverine fish is connected to species traits. Scientific Reports.

  • Nel, H. A., Dalu, T., & Wasserman, R. J. (2018). Sinks and sources: Assessing microplastic abundance in river sediment and deposit feeders in an austral temperate urban river system. Science of the Total Environment.

  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF)- Ontario Flow Assessment Tool (OFAT). (2019). Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. Accessed 20 Aug 2019.

  • Qu, X., Su, L., Li, H., Liang, M., & Shi, H. (2018). Assessing the relationship between the abundance and properties of microplastics in water and in mussels. Science of the Total Environment.

  • R Core Team. (2019). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Accessed 10 Oct 2019.

  • Rochman, C. M., Hoh, E., Kurobe, T., & Teh, S. J. (2013). Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. Scientific Reports.

  • Rochman, C. M., Kurobe, T., Flores, I., & Teh, S. J. (2014). Early warning signs of endocrine disruption in adult fish from the ingestion of polyethylene with and without sorbed chemical pollutants from the marine environment. Science of the Total Environment.

  • Rosa, M., Ward, J. E., & Shumway, S. E. (2018). Selective capture and ingestion of particles by suspension-feeding bivalve Molluscs: A Review. Journal of Shellfish Research.

  • Rueden, C. T., Schindelin, J., Hiner, M. C., DeZonia, B. E., Walter, A. E., Arena, E. T., & Eliceiri, K. W. (2017). ImageJ2: ImageJ for the next generation of scientific image data. BMC Bioinformatics.

  • Song, Y. K., Hong, S. H., Jang, M., Han, G. M., Rani, M., Lee, J., & Shim, W. J. (2015). A comparison of microscopic and spectroscopic identification methods for analysis of microplastics in environmental samples. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Su, L., Cai, H., Kolandhasamy, P., Wu, C., Rochman, C. M., & Shi, H. (2018). Using the Asian clam as an indicator of microplastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems. Environmental Pollution.

  • Sussarellu, R., Suquet, M., Thomas, Y., Lambert, C., Fabioux, C., Pernet, M. E. J., et al. (2016). Oyster reproduction is affected by exposure to polystyrene microplastics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

  • Tanaka, K., & Takada, H. (2016). Microplastic fragments and microbeads in digestive tracts of planktivorous fish from urban coastal waters. Scientific Reports.

  • Thompson, R. C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R. P., Davis, A., Rowland, S. J., John, A. W. G., McGonigle, D., & Russell, A. E. (2004). Lost at sea: Where is all the plastic? Science, 304(5672), 838–838.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Thorp, J. H., & Rogers, D. C. (2011). Mussels and Clams: Phylum Mollusca, Class Bivalvia. Field Guide to Freshwater Invertebrates of North America.

  • Van Cauwenberghe, L., & Janssen, C. R. (2014). Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environmental Pollution.

  • Vaughn, C. C., Nichols, S. J., & Spooner, D. E. (2008). Community and foodweb ecology of freshwater mussels. Journal of the North American Benthological Society.

  • Vollertsen, J., & Hansen, A. A. (2017). Microplastic in Danish wastewater: Sources, occurrences and fate. Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Von Moos, N., Burkhardt-Holm, P., & Köhler, A. (2012). Uptake and effects of microplastics on cells and tissue of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis L. after an experimental exposure. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Wagner, M., Scherer, C., Alvarez-Muñoz, D., Brennholt, N., Bourrain, X., Buchinger, S., et al. (2014). Microplastics in freshwater ecosystems: What we know and what we need to know. Environmental Sciences Europe.

  • Ward, J. E., Zhao, S., Holohan, B. A., Mladinich, K. M., Griffin, T. W., Wozniak, J., & Shumway, S. E. (2019). Selective ingestion and egestion of plastic particles by the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica): Implications for using bivalves as bioindicators of microplastic pollution. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Watkins, L., McGrattan, S., Sullivan, P. J., & Walter, M. T. (2019). The effect of dams on river transport of microplastic pollution. Science of the Total Environment.

  • Williams, J. D., Warren, M. L., Cummings, K. S., Harris, J. L., & Neves, R. J. (1993). Conservation status of freshwater mussels of the United States and Canada. Fisheries.<0006:csofmo>;2.

  • Woods, M. N., Stack, M. E., Fields, D. M., Shaw, S. D., & Matrai, P. A. (2018). Microplastic fiber uptake, ingestion, and egestion rates in the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis). Marine Pollution Bulletin.

  • Yonkos, L. T., Friedel, E. A., Perez-Reyes, A. C., Ghosal, S., & Arthur, C. D. (2014). Microplastics in four estuarine rivers in the Chesapeake Bay, U.S.A. Environmental Science and Technology.

  • Zbyszewski, M., & Corcoran, P. L. (2011). Distribution and degradation of fresh water plastic particles along the beaches of Lake Huron, Canada. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution.

Download references


The authors would like to thank all individuals who participated in this project. Dr. Grzegorz Szymanski from the Department of Chemistry, University of Guelph for his valued training and assistance with Raman spectroscopy, Dr. Patricia Gillis (Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Centre for Inland Waters) and colleagues, Jim Bennett and Joseph Salerno, for assistance in collecting of mussels in the Grand River, Nicole Wardell for the assistance in reviewing samples, and Dylan Bowes for the assistance in engineering filtering equipment.


Funding for this project was provided by a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council. Discovery Grant to R.S. Prosser.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. S. Prosser.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Capsule: Microplastics observed in the tissues of freshwater mussels (Lasmigona costata) in the Grand River watershed. A greater number of microplastics observed in mussels downstream of wastewater treatment facilities.

Electronic Supplementary Material


(DOCX 58.3 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wardlaw, C., Prosser, R.S. Investigation of Microplastics in Freshwater Mussels (Lasmigona costata) From the Grand River Watershed in Ontario, Canada. Water Air Soil Pollut 231, 405 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Unionidae
  • Polypropylene
  • Polyethylene
  • Polymers