Master of Environmental Studies Capstone Projects

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Microplastics are accumulating at an alarming rate in waterways all around the world. While marine microplastics have been studied extensively, the distribution, concentration, and characteristics of microplastics in freshwater systems are not well understood. Understanding the presence of microplastics in freshwater is essential for studying their impacts to water resources, human health, and aquatic health. The scientific community is finding that microplastics can carry and release persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs) in water, but it is difficult to assess their impacts without having baseline information about their presence in freshwater systems. This research is a step towards identifying and characterizing the types of microplastics present in freshwater systems such as the Delaware River and its tributaries. In this study, surface water samples were collected in the Poquessing Creek via grab sampling. The samples were then purified using the Fenton reaction paired with density separation and analyzed using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). The procedure revealed information on the morphology and composition of microplastics present in the Poquessing Creek. Analysis of samples from the lower, tidal portion of the Poquessing Creek revealed 63 microplastics in the form of fibers, fragments, films, and flakes having variable composition including polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Complete quantification of microplastics was not possible due to the heterogeneity of microparticles present throughout the samples. This research begins to close the knowledge gap on the presence of microplastics in freshwater systems and also attempts to standardize sampling and analysis techniques for assessing freshwater microplastics. Since the types and composition of microplastics in freshwater systems can be characterized, researchers can move towards identifying and assessing their impacts on water resources, human health, and aquatic health.


microplastics, fresh water, Delaware River



Date Posted: 23 August 2021