Long-Term Sorption of Metals Is Similar among Plastic Types : Implications for Plastic Debris in Aquatic Environments

Concerns regarding plastic debris and its ability to accumulate large concentrations of priority pollutants in the aquatic environment led us to quantify relationships between different types of mass-produced plastic and metals in seawater. At three locations in San Diego Bay, we measured the accumulation of nine targeted metals (aluminum, chromium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, zinc, cadmium and lead) sampling at 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months, to five plastic types: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP). Accumulation patterns were not consistent over space and time, and in general all types of plastic tended to accumulate similar concentrations of metals. When we did observe significant differences among concentrations of metals at a single sampling period or location in San Diego Bay, we found that HDPE typically accumulated lesser concentrations of metals than the other four polymers. Furthermore, over the 12-month study period, concentrations of all metals increased over time, and chromium, manganese, cobalt, nickel, zinc and lead did not reach saturation on at least one plastic type during the entire 12-month exposure. This suggests that plastic debris may accumulate greater concentrations of metals the longer it remains at sea. Overall, our work shows that a complex mixture of metals, including those listed as priority pollutants by the US EPA (Cd, Ni, Zn and Pb), can be found on plastic debris composed of various plastic types.

Rochman, Chelsea M., Hentschel, Brian T., Teh, Swee J., Plos One, Vol. 9 (1), January 2014, 15

The open access article

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