Rutgers Researchers Explore Microplastic Concentrations in the Raritan River

News | Raritan River Initiatives | Water Quality

New research from Dr. Nicole Fahrenfeld of Rutgers School of Engineering and former Rutgers graduate student Shirin Estahbanati examines microplastic contamination in the Raritan River. The goal of Dr. Fahrenfeld’s research was to determine the concentration of microplastic and evaluate the impact of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) on microplastic concentration in the Raritan. Microplastics are plastics smaller than 5mm and include secondary microplastics, which are derived from larger particles, and primary microplastics, which are manufactured in a small size. A comparison of samples collected upstream and downstream of several WWTP sites on the Raritan showed higher concentrations of microplastic downstream of some WWTPs.

While this finding indicates that WWTPs are a source of microplastic contamination, a comparison to a background site’s contamination levels points to the existence of another contamination source. Although, the production of personal care products that contain primary microplastics will be phased out by 2018 due to recent legislation, this will not address secondary microplastics, which were found in higher concentrations than primary microplastics in the Raritan.

Dr. Fahrenfeld is also involved in ongoing research on Antibiotic Resistant Gene (ARG) in the Hudson, Passaic and Raritan Rivers. This research assessed ARG levels under both wet and dry conditions, and is exploring the potential for end-of-pipe treatment with rapid settling and disinfection.

Dr. Fahrenfeld was a speaker at the 2016 Sustainable Raritan River Conference.  Click on the link to read the full microplastic paper:  Influence of wastewater treatment plant discharges on microplastic concentrations in surface water.  This research was funded by the United States Geological Survey through the New Jersey Water Resources Research Institute at Rutgers and through Rutgers Aresty Research Center and the Douglass Project for Women in Math, Science, and Engineering.

For more information contact Dr. Nicole Fahrenfeld at