New methodologies to monitor microplastics in lakes

ENEA researchers were engaged until 13th July in Lakes Maggiore, Como and Garda in the second phase of the Life Blue Lakes project, coordinated by Legambiente, which mainly involves monitoring microplastics in lake water.

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© Julius Silver on Pexels

Investigating the risk of microplastics in lakes, developing a standardised and innovative methodological framework for sampling, analysing and monitoring the presence of this emerging pollutant in lake waters. This is the aim of ENEA researchers, who until 13 July were working in Lakes Maggiore, Como and Garda in the second phase of the Life Blue Lakes project, coordinated by Legambiente, which not only involves monitoring microplastics but also transferring the data to the institutions responsible for environmental protection and launching demonstrative actions and discussions with the Regional Agencies for Environmental Protection (ARPA).

The occasion will be the resumption of the Goletta dei Laghi campaign in collaboration with ENEA after the stop due to the Covid-19 emergency, to monitor the health of Italian lakes and promote virtuous examples of sustainable management.

According to the latest data from ENEA, plastic particles smaller than 5 millimetres are increasingly threatening Italian lakes: in the Maggiore, Como and Garda basins, monitored from 2016 to 2019, the concentrations of microplastics vary from 10 thousand to 230 thousand particles/km2. In all these lakes, the presence of fragments and filaments of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS) was prevalent.

At the operational level, the monitoring protocol that the researchers of the ENEA Laboratory of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services will finalize in autumn, will be divided into four phases, each for the three elements analyzed (surface water, column and sands): the preliminary analysis, the monitoring plan, the in situ and laboratory activities. The information will then be extended to the ARPA technical referees during a specific training course, an important knowledge transfer also in view of the entry into force of the new EU Directive 2020/2184, which requires the monitoring of the presence of microplastics in drinking water and the harmonisation of analysis methods.

“This is a fundamental step of Life Blue Lakes, which marks the continuation of the collaboration and transfer of knowledge and operating methods started last year with the technicians of ARPA Umbria, project partner on the sampling of microplastics, which will be followed in the autumn by the laboratory phase,” says Maria Sighicelli of the ENEA Laboratory of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. “There is still no standardisation of methods and programmes for monitoring microplastics in lake basins,” she adds, “so our aim is to fill the gap in the already very advanced knowledge and methodology framework for the marine environment, for which much has been done in recent years.”

Among the objectives of Life Blue Lakes is also the activity of awareness raising, promotion and dissemination to the general public: the next appointment is on 17th July, during the Festival of Pergine (Trento), with the event “Monday“, a theatrical performance where art and science meet, confront each other, contaminate each other, in search of new languages, new affinities and new spaces.

Financed under the European Life programme with the contribution of PlasticsEurope, the Life Blue Lakes project brings together ENEA as scientific partner and Legambiente as coordinator, Arpa Umbria, the Central Italy Basin Authority, Global Nature Fund, Lake Constance Foundation and the Marche Polytechnic University.

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