Microplastics in Freshwater Environment in Asia: A Systematic Scientific Review

In Water
Peer-reviewed Article
cover image

Microplastics (MPs) are an emerging pollutant in the aquatic environment, and this has gradually been recognized in the Asian region. This systematic review study, using the Scopus database, provides an insightful understanding of the spatial distribution of scientific studies on MPs in freshwater conducted across the Asian region, utilized sampling methods, and a detailed assessment of the effects of MPs on different biotic components in freshwater ecosystems, with special focus on its potential risks on human health. The results of this review indicate that research on microplastics in Asia has gained attention since 2014, with a significant increase in the number of studies in 2018, and the number of scientific studies quadrupled in 2021 compared to 2018. Results indicated that despite a significant amount of research has been conducted in many Asian countries, they were not distributed evenly, as multiple studies selected specific rivers and lakes. Additionally, around two-thirds of all the papers focused their studies in China, followed by India and South Korea. It was also found that most of the studies focused primarily on reporting the occurrence levels of MPs in freshwater systems, such as water and sediments, and aquatic organisms, with a lack of studies investigating the human intake of MPs and their potential risks to human health. Notably, comparing the results is a challenge because diverse sampling, separation, and identification methods were applied to estimate MPs. This review study suggests that further research on the dynamics and transport of microplastics in biota and humans is needed, as Asia is a major consumer of seafood products and contributes significantly to the generation of plastic litter in the marine environment. Moreover, this review study revealed that only a few studies extended their discussions to policies and governance aspects of MPs. This implies the need for further research on policy and governance frameworks to address this emerging water pollutant more holistically.