The unbridled increase in plastic pollution of the world’s oceans raises concerns about potential effects these materials may have on microalgae, which are primary producers at the basis of the food chain and a major global source of oxygen. Our current understanding about the potential modes and mechanisms of toxic action that plastic particles exert on microalgae is extremely limited. How effects might vary with particle size and the physico-chemical properties of the specific plastic material in question is equally unelucidated, but may hold clues to how toxicity, if observed, is exerted. In this study we selected polystyrene particles, both negatively charged and uncharged, and three different sizes (0.05, 0.5 and 6 μm) for testing the effects of size and material properties. Microalgae were exposed to different polystyrene particle sizes and surface charges for 72 h. Effects on microalgal photosynthesis and growth were determined by pulse amplitude modulation fluorometry and flow cytometry, respectively. None of the treatments tested in these experiments had an effect on microalgal photosynthesis. Microalgal growth was negatively affected (up to 45%) by uncharged polystyrene particles, but only at high concentrations (250 mg/L). Additionally, these adverse effects were demonstrated to increase with decreasing particle size.
Sascha B. Sjollema, Paula Redondo-Hasselerharm, Heather A. Leslie, Michiel H.S. Kraak, A. Dick Vethaak, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 170, Pages 259–261, January 2016