A state-of-the-science review was conducted to examine the potential for microplastics to sorb hydrophobic organic chemicals (HOCs) from the marine environment, for aquatic organisms to take up these HOCs from the microplastics, and for this exposure to result in adverse effects to ecological and human health. Despite concentrations of HOCs associated with microplastics that can be orders of magnitude greater than surrounding seawater, the relative importance of microplastics as a route of exposure is difficult to quantify because aquatic organisms are typically exposed to HOCs from various compartments, including water, sediment, and food. Results of laboratory experiments and modeling studies indicate that HOCs can partition from microplastics to organisms or from organisms to microplastics, depending on experimental conditions. Very little information is available to evaluate ecological or human health effects from this exposure. Most of the available studies measured biomarkers that are more indicative of exposure than effects, and no studies showed effects to ecologically relevant endpoints. Therefore, evidence is weak to support the occurrence of ecologically significant adverse effects on aquatic life as a result of exposure to HOCs sorbed to microplastics or to wildlife populations and humans from secondary exposure via the food chain. More data are needed to fully understand the relative importance of exposure to HOCs from microplastics compared with other exposure pathways.
Ziccardi, L. M., Edgington, A., Hentz, K., Kulacki, K. J. and Kane Driscoll, S., Environ Toxicol Chem., May 2016