Plastic bag derived-microplastics as a vector for metal exposure in terrestrial invertebrates

Microplastics are widespread contaminants in terrestrial environments but comparatively little is known about interactions between microplastics and common terrestrial contaminants such as zinc (Zn). In adsorption experiments fragmented HDPE bags c. one mm2 in size showed similar sorption characteristics to soil. However, when present in combination with soil, concentrations of adsorbed Zn on a per mass basis were over an order of magnitude lower on microplastics. Desorption of the Zn was minimal from both microplastics and soil in synthetic soil solution (0.01 M CaCl2), but in synthetic earthworm guts desorption was higher from microplastics (40–60%) than soil (2–15%), suggesting microplastics could increase Zn bioavailability. Individual Lumbricus terrestris earthworms exposed for 28 days in mesocosms of 260 g moist soil containing 0.35 wt % of Zn-bearing microplastic (236–4505 mg kg–1) ingested the microplastics, but there was no evidence of Zn accumulation, mortality, or weight change. Digestion of the earthworms showed that they did not retain microplastics in their gut. These findings indicate that microplastics could act as vectors to increase metal exposure in earthworms, but that the associated risk is unlikely to be significant for essential metals such as Zn that are well regulated by metabolic processes.

Mark E. Hodson, Calum A. Duffus-Hodson, Andy Clark, Miranda T. Prendergast-Miller, and Karen L. Thorpe, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, 29 March 2017

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