Simultaneous trace identification and quantification of common types of microplastics in environmental samples by pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry

The content of microplastics (MP) in the environment is constantly growing. Since the environmental relevance, particularly bioavailability, rises with decreasing particle size, the knowledge of the MP proportion in habitats and organisms is of gaining importance. The reliable recognition of MP particles is limited and underlies substantial uncertainties. Therefor spectroscopically methods are necessary to ensure the plastic nature of isolated particles, determine the polymer type and obtain particle count related quantitative data. In this study Curie-Point pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry combined with thermochemolysis is shown to be an excellent analytical tool to simultaneously identify and optionally quantify MP in environmental samples on a polymer specific mass related trace level. The method is independent of any optical preselection or particle appearance. For this purpose polymer characteristic pyrolysis products and their indicative fragment ions were used to analyze eight common types of plastics. Further aspects of calibration, recoveries, and potential matrix effects are discussed. The method is exemplarily applied on selected fish samples after an enzymatic-chemically pretreatment. This new approach with mass-related results is complementary to established FT-IR and Raman methods providing particle counts of individual polymer particles.

Marten Fischer and Barbara M. Scholz-Böttcher, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (9), pp 5052–5060

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