Microplastics as vector for heavy metal contamination from the marine environment

The permanent presence of microplastics in the marine environment is considered a global threat to several marine animals. Heavy metals and microplastics are typically included in two different classes of pollutants but the interaction between these two stressors is poorly understood.

During 14 days of experimental manipulation, we examined the adsorption of two heavy metals, copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn), leached from an antifouling paint to virgin polystyrene (PS) beads and aged polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fragments in seawater. We demonstrated that heavy metals were released from the antifouling paint to the water and both microplastic types adsorbed the two heavy metals. This adsorption kinetics was described using partition coefficients and mathematical models. Partition coefficients between pellets and water ranged between 650 and 850 for Cu on PS and PVC, respectively. The adsorption of Cu was significantly greater in PVC fragments than in PS, probably due to higher surface area and polarity of PVC. Concentrations of Cu and Zn increased significantly on PVC and PS over the course of the experiment with the exception of Zn on PS. As a result, we show a significant interaction between these types of microplastics and heavy metals, which can have implications for marine life and the environment. These results strongly support recent findings where plastics can play a key role as vectors for heavy metal ions in the marine system. Finally, our findings highlight the importance of monitoring marine litter and heavy metals, mainly associated with antifouling paints, particularly in the framework of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Dennis Brennecke, Bernardo Duarte, Filipa Paiva, Isabel Caçador, João Canning-Clode, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Volume 178, 5 September 2016, Pages 189–195

The article

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