Fast identification of microplastics in complex environmental samples by a thermal degradation method

In order to determine the relevance of microplastic particles in various environmental media, comprehensive investigations are needed. However, no analytical method exists for fast identification and quantification. At present, optical spectroscopy methods like IR and RAMAN imaging are used. Due to their time consuming procedures and uncertain extrapolation, reliable monitoring is difficult. For analyzing polymers Py-GC-MS is a standard method. However, due to a limited sample amount of about 0.5 mg it is not suited for analysis of complex sample mixtures like environmental samples. Therefore, we developed a new thermoanalytical method as a first step for identifying microplastics in environmental samples. A sample amount of about 20 mg, which assures the homogeneity of the sample, is subjected to complete thermal decomposition. The specific degradation products of the respective polymer are adsorbed on a solid-phase adsorber and subsequently analyzed by thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry. For certain identification, the specific degradation products for the respective polymer were selected first. Afterwards real environmental samples from the aquatic (three different rivers) and the terrestrial (bio gas plant) systems were screened for microplastics. Mainly polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) and polystyrene (PS) were identified for the samples from the bio gas plant and PE and PS from the rivers. However, this was only the first step and quantification measurements will follow.

Erik Dümichen, , Paul Eisentraut, Claus Gerhard Bannick and al., Chemosphere, Volume 174, May 2017, Pages 572–584

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