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Levels of plastic contamination discovered in the River Mersey should be a “wake-up call” for the government to tighten controls on use of the material, an environmental pressure group said.
Tests by the Greenpeace ranked the Mersey worst among 13 UK rivers after it used nets to catch 942 pieces of microplastic within an hour.
They included plastic manufacturing pellets and microbeads, tiny spherical pieces of plastic often used in cosmetic and household products, despite a partial ban on their use.
Greenpeace claimed its tests on the Mersey in Warrington showed it was likely to contain more plastic than the so-called "great Pacific garbage patch" between California and Hawaii.
Prof Jamie Woodward, from the School of Geography at the University of Manchester, said Greenpeace's analysis supports its research which showed microplastics in the river bed sediments in the Mersey catchment was "higher than in any other environment".
Greenpeace called for the government to introduce plastic reduction targets in its forthcoming Environment Bill.
The other rivers tested were the Exe, Thames, Severn, Great Ouse, Trent, Aire, Derwent, Wear, Conwy, Wye, Clyde and Lagan.
A spokesman for the The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was funding “ground-breaking research into how microplastics enter waterways and working with the water industry to find new methods to detect, measure and remove microplastics from wastewater".