Enhanced desorption of persistent organic pollutants from microplastics under simulated physiological conditions

Microplastics have the potential to uptake and release persistent organic pollutants (POPs); however, subsequent transfer to marine organisms is poorly understood. Some models estimating transfer of sorbed contaminants to organisms neglect the role of gut surfactants under differing physiological conditions in the gut (varying pH and temperature), examined here. We investigated the potential for polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polyethylene (PE) to sorb and desorb 14C-DDT, 14C-phenanthrene (Phe), 14C-perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 14C-di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). Desorption rates of POPs were quantified in seawater and under simulated gut conditions. Influence of pH and temperature was examined in order to represent cold and warm blooded organisms. Desorption rates were faster with gut surfactant, with a further substantial increase under conditions simulating warm blooded organisms. Desorption under gut conditions could be up to 30 times greater than in seawater alone. Of the POP/plastic combinations examined Phe with PE gave the highest potential for transport to organisms.

Adil Bakir, Steven J. Rowland, Richard C. Thompson, Environmental Pollution, Volume 185, Pages 16–23, February 2014

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