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Tuesday, 19 January 2021 11:09

Government examine road runoff role for microplastics entering environment

Highways England has launched a study into whether surface water which runs off roads affects the level of microplastics in the environment.

The Government company responsible for motorways and major A roads says it already has assessment and design standards for maintaining and improving drainage systems on its network. But now it has kickstarted research to see if more can be done, and has just published initial research identifying what evidence exists and to determine what further research needs doing.

Michael Whitehead, Principal Advisor for Water at Highways England said: "The outcome of further research will be the evidence base to inform future decision making, enabling us to take positive action to manage identified risks, inform policy and identify further areas of research."

drainage imagemainThe research was done on Highways England's behalf through the SPaTSs framework by a joint venture of Atkins-Jacobs. The Project Steering Group included representatives from the Environment Agency, National Oceanography Centre / UK Microplastics Network and the British Tyre Manufacturers' Association

Helen Wakeham, Environment Agency Deputy Director Water Quality, Groundwater & Contaminated Land, said: "We supported this research by Highways England as it provided a valuable review into the current knowledge of the potential scale of microplastic and chemical pollution from highways. We look forward to continuing work with Highways England on this important topic as the work progresses. This will help us better understand the contribution from the road network as a source of microplastics and emerging chemicals of concern entering the environment."

The research will help Highways England better understand the scale of this issue, the nature of the problem and identify any further detailed research to inform changes to its current policy or design standards.

Alice Horton from the National Oceanography Centre, said: "This study has identified the critical knowledge gaps that should be addressed going forwards to enable us to understand the extent and implications of microplastic runoff from roads, and measures that should be put in place to limit this environmental contamination."

A crucial part of this first stage of research, which has just been published, involved identifying suitable methods to collect and analyse samples of road runoff to establish the presence or absence of microplastics.

Judith Brammer, microplastics technical lead for the Atkins Jacobs Joint Venture, said: "This is cutting edge research that has the potential to transform our understanding of the contribution of road runoff to microplastics in the water environment."

This work aims to ensure that Highways England's understanding of the environmental effects associated with the Strategic Road Network (SRN) is up to date, and that the assessment and design guidance standards which is published and maintained in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) are robust.

Link to published report here.