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Agricultural application of microplastic-rich sewage sludge leads to further uncontrolled contamination

Municipal sewage sludge has been shown to be high in microplastics (MP) and is applied to agricultural land as fertiliser in many countries. The authors recently proposed in a viewpoint article that MP applied to land in this way may well contaminate other areas in an uncontrolled way. This study examined experimental plots with known history of application of sewage sludge. Results showed that 44% of the MP load found on sludge- applied land was found on nearby land never directly applied with sludge. Examination of polymer type compositions demonstrated marked similarity between the two fields indicating the sludge-applied field was a source of contamination for surrounding areas. Furthermore, MP was detected at a depth of 60–90 cm in the sludge- applied soil indicating that MP may also penetrate deep enough to reach agricultural drainage systems, although this effect is slight (1.6% of surface load). These results show that application of municipal sewage sludge on agricultural land can lead to further uncontrolled contamination, paving the way for future research to improve un- derstanding of the extents of such effects on real farms to better inform future agricultural policy.

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