Polystyrene plastic: a source and sink for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the marine environment

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on virgin polystyrene (PS) and PS marine debris led us to examine PS as a source and sink for PAHs in the marine environment. At two locations in San Diego Bay, we measured sorption of PAHs to PS pellets, sampling at 0, 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. We detected 25 PAHs using a new analytical method with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Several congeners were detected on samples before deployment. After deployment, some concentrations decreased (1,3-dimethylnaphthalene and 2,6-methylnaphthalene) while most increased (2-methylanthracene and all parent PAHs (PPAHs) except fluorene and fluoranthene), suggesting PS debris is a source and sink for PAHs. When comparing sorbed concentrations of PPAHs on PS to the five most common polymers (polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP)), PS sorbed greater concentrations than PP, PET and PVC, similar to HDPE and LDPE. Most strikingly, at 0 months, PPAHs on PS ranged from 8-200 times greater than on PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, and PP. The combination of greater PAHs in virgin pellets and large sorption suggests that PS may pose a greater risk of exposure to PAHs upon ingestion.

Chelsea M. Rochman et. al, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, November 2013

The article

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