Determination of microplastic polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) in environmental samples using thermal analysis (TGA-DSC)

Microplastics are increasingly detected in the environment and the consequences on water resources and ecosystems are not clear to date. The present study provides a cost-effective and straightforward method to determine the mass concentrations of polymer types using thermal analysis. Characteristic endothermic phase transition temperatures were determined for seven plastic polymer types using TGA-DSC. Based on that, extracts from wastewater samples were analyzed.

Results showed that among the studied polymers, only PE and PP could be clearly identified, while the phase transition signals of the other polymers largely overlap each other. Subsequently, calibration curves were run for PE and PP for qualitative measurements. 240 and 1540 mg/m3 of solid material (12µm to 1mm) was extracted from two wastewater effluent samples of a municipal WWTP of which 34% (81 mg/m3) and 17% (257 mg/m3) could be assigned to PE, while PP was not detected in any of the samples. The presented application of TGA-DSC provides a complementary or alternative method to FT-IR analyses for the determination of PE and PP in environmental samples.

Marius Majewsky, Hajo Bitter, Elisabeth Eiche, Harald Horn, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 568, 15 October 2016, Pages 507–511

The article

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