IMPASSE – Impacts of MicroPlastics on AgrosystemS and Stream Environments

Project Interactive Website

 Foto Luca Nizzetto


Luca Nizzetto

 Executive Coordinator 

Projects  Partner and Institution:

Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) (Norway)
Swedish University of Agriculture (SLU) (Sweden)
Trent University (Canada)
Winsor University (Canada)
Vrije University Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
IMDEA Water (Spain)

Key words

Microplastics, Ecotoxicology, Fate and distribution model, Agriculture, water management


While it is widely known that microplastics (MPs) in the ocean are a serious environmental problem, the threat posed by MPs in agricultural lands is almost entirely unknown. A large fraction of MPs produced in industrialized countries is intercepted by sewers. In treatment plants most of MPs are retained in the sludge. A sizeable fraction of this sewage sludge is spread in many countries on agricultural lands. We estimate the MP input to agricultural lands in Europe to be between 50000 and 175000 tonnes/year. This is especially alarming given that plastic polymers can contain toxic compounds and endocrine disrupting substances. Effectively, sewage sludge application may be causing persistent, pernicious and almost totally ignored contamination of agricultural land. In IMPASSE, we propose to develop and communicate new understanding of MP behavior in agrosystems which is urgently needed to avoid the potential of serious and long lasting environmental contamination. The highly interdisciplinary project includes risk communication, stakeholder engagement, ecotoxicology, catchment modelling, decision support tools, monitoring and experimental work needed to understand and then minimize threats associated with MPs in agrosystems.

IMPASSE will contribute substantially to an avoidance of current and future pollution in soils and waters in agricultural landscapes and develop guidance on how drainage management may influence MP mobility.

Project structure

WPO Project management


The research work plan is framed around 2 Pillars: Pillar 1 (including WP1-3) is devoted to analysis of exposure and impacts of MPs in agrosystems. In Pillar 2, instead, this information is used to assess environmental and economic impacts of possible management actions interactively elaborated/discussed with the stakeholder group (including farming organizations, water utilities, catchment authorities and governance). The development of Decision support tools (WP3) is a central aspect of IMPASSE. In particular we will complete the development of the first mathematical model of MP transport conceived to serve as a powerful upscaling tool. We will develop a tool that will enable addressing pertinent questions for stakeholders, regulators, farmers and the general public such as: Will the burden of MPs increase in the future, under current agricultural practices? Does/will this burden exceed safety thresholds for organisms and agricultural sustainability? What would be the farmed soil recovery time if the addition of MPs is ceased? How efficiently are MPs which runoff from fields, retained in stream sediments? What are the implications for the freshwater ecosystem? Will mitigation/remediation actions result in co-occurring adverse impacts on farmed soils and water quality (e.g. increased nutrient/organic matter run-off)? What will it cost to address these problems? Scientifically rigorous guidance for answering these questions will be generated starting from INCA-Microplastics (INCA-MP), the unique model prototype (the first of this kind) developed by our group. INCA-MP is an integrated hydro-biogeochemical contaminant fate model. After calibration and validation using experiments and observations conducted in artificial streams and field scale (WP1 and WP3), the model will be used to describe 3 experimental case studies in Sweden, Spain and Canada, and provide information on implications of the various management scenario.

In order to obtain the necessary information to calibrate and assess the model we conceived the activities in WP1 (exposure). These include the first analysis of MP inputs, accumulation and releases from farmed fields treated with wastewater and sludge.
WP2 (Impacts) is dedicated to the assessment of the uptake and toxic responses of organisms to MP exposure. This WP is conceived to fill the current knowledge gap on the effects of MPs on soil and freshwater organisms. Experiments will be conducted at different levels of complexity (from single species to communities) addressing combined toxic outcomes related to addition of MPs and selected chemicals that can be constituent of the original plastic or adsorbed via secondary exposure in the environment. A key component of our research will be the analysis of transfers of hazardous substances contained in plastic polymers (e.g. plasticizers, flame retardants and their metabolites) from MPs in soil to food products. To this end we will analyze concentrations of a selected set of substances in crops (e.g. vegetables) and cow milk, and compare results with control groups. This activity bridges environmental and human health fields.

The knowledge and tools developed in Pillar 1 (WP1-3) will be used in Pillar 2 for conveying information to the stakeholder group. The group will include representative of farmers, water utilities and governance from each of the selected 3 case studies. The case studies will be selected to represent farming catchments in which sewage and/or waste water are used as fertilizer or for irrigation. Through a tailored communication we will involve stakeholders in elaborating suggestions for possible mitigation measures. The implication of the suggested management scenarios will be analyzed under an environmental lens (using INCA-MPs) and with the new information on effects (WP2)) and an economic lens (through an original analysis of cost-benefits, co-benefits and trade-offs). WP4 and WP5 are linked by a loop representing the interactive mechanisms underpinning stakeholders’ involvement in our project. This mechanism, fully meeting the joint call requirements, is of great importance and great added value.


D1.1. Complete dataset of MP fluxes and loading for the 3 case studies (electronic spreadsheet);
D1.2. Complete dataset of MP mass budgets in artificial stream experiments (electronic spreadsheet);
D1.3. Report on exposure analysis results for stakeholders (Report);
D1.4. Two scientific publications on fluxes and budgets of MPs in agrosystems.
D2.1. Report on single species effects;
D2.2. Scientific article on the results of task T2.3;
D2.3. Report on higher tier effects to be delivered to stakeholders;
D2.4. Report on bioaccumulation and biomagnification to be delivered to stakeholders
D3.1 Calibrated INCA-MP model applications with uncertainty assessments simulating MP fate and transport in three case study catchments;
D3.2 Establishment of the knowledge base required to understand present day MP pollutant dynamics and possible future consequences of changes in climate, land management and MP loading (Scientific paper submitted)
D4.1 Eight National Stakeholder Meeting reports;
D4.2 A media report specifically targeted to address (likely) shortcomings in awareness of MP issues in the environment;
D4.3 Four management scenario workshops reports;
D4.4 International seminar report presenting results of management scenario description.
D5.1 Identification of the most environmentally efficient strategies of MP management which minimize transport to receiving waters (Scientific paper );
D5.2 Identification and promulgation of the costs and economic effectiveness of MP management strategies which limit in-situ and downstream runoff of MPs (Report);
D5.3 A synthesis report designed for stakeholders documenting the resilient MP management strategies and their implications.


D1.1: Data sources and indicators finalized (month 12).

D1.2: Finalized architecture deployment (month 24).

D2.1: Generalized data mining techniques and anomaly algorithm & indicator (month 12)

D2.2: Maps indicating hotspots, vulnerability and identified “hot time periods” (month 14)

D2.3: Generalized data-driven modelling techniques (month 20)

D4.1: Derived climate change scenarios for drivers/predictors at relevant scales (month 18).

D4.2: Deployed Big Data framework (month 20).

D4.3: Simulated defined seasonal and long term scenarios and analysed the impacts (month 22).

D4.4: Derived key indicators (month 24).
D5.1: Set-up website (month 1).
D5.2: Extracted list of most urgent needs and collected data from stakeholders (month 6).

References coordinator and  leaders of  each WP:

WP0 (Coordination): Luca Nizzetto, NIVA
WP1: Luca Nizzetto NIVA
WP2: Marco Vighi IMDEA Water
WP3: Martyn Futter, SLU
WP4: SIndre Langaas, NIVA
WP5: Jill Crossman, Windsor University

Contact Point for  Communication/Dissemination activities:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (NIVA)

 Contact Point for Open Data/Open Access activities: 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (NIVA)

 Picture of the research team: