PhD Studentship: Combined Sewer Overflows: a Hotspot for Riverine Plastic Pollution

University of East Anglia

Norwich, UK 🇬🇧

Qualification Type:PhD
Funding for:UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount:£15,609 p.a. plus Research Funding, Graduate Training, and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences
Hours:Full Time
Placed On:29th October 2021
Closes:12th January 2022

Scientific background 

Tackling the global challenge of plastic pollution is at the forefront of current scientific research efforts. Nevertheless, research to date has focused upon the marine environment and there remains major gaps in our understanding of the origin, transport and fate of plastics in river systems, hindering our ability to evaluate the ecotoxicological consequences upon freshwater ecosystems. Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are potentially important hotspots for riverine microplastic and endocrine disrupting plasticizer pollution through the release of untreated sewage effluent from wastewater treatment works (WWTWs). Concerns posed by CSOs are highlighted in the new Environment Bill and this project will seek to address fundamental questions regarding the nature and impact of microplastic and plasticizer material being released from CSOs. 

Research methodology 

Focusing upon a targeted selection of Anglian Water WWTWs encompassing a range of contrasting treatment systems, this project will integrate hydrological and analytical sciences to develop a novel quantitative evidence base on plastic pollution in riverine environments impacted by CSO discharge. Through an extensive field and laboratory campaign, the applicant will first gather evidence on the abundance and composition of microplastics and plasticizers in water and sediments upstream and downstream of CSOs, before developing a scalable and transferable mapping tool to identify the concentration and loading of microplastics and plasticizers from CSOs into rivers across the wider Anglian Water region. 


Working within a leading microplastics laboratory, the applicant will gain extensive field and laboratory experience in the collection and analysis of riverine water and sediment samples, including training in the operation of custom-built analysis equipment for microplastics, state-of the art Raman microscope and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The student will develop skills in the R programming language for analysing hydrochemical datasets and Geographical Information Systems for developing spatial models. Close collaboration with Anglian Water will embed applicant learning within water resources management and policy, and provide opportunities for public engagement with local catchment partnerships and scientific conferences. 

Person specification 

Suitable candidates will have a degree in Environmental Sciences or a related subject and have a keen interest in Catchment Science with a passion for field and laboratory work. 

Primary Supervisor: Dr Richard Cooper

Start Date: 1 October 2022

For more information on this project, please visit