Microplastic particles from Atlantic and Pacific Ocean trawls, lab-fed fish guts and ocean fish guts have been characterized using optical microscopy and SEM/EDS in terms of size, morphology, and chemistry. We assessed whether these measurements could serve as a rapid screening process for subsequent identification of the likely microplastic candidates by micro-spectroscopy. Optical microscopy enabled morphological classification of the types of particles or fibers present in the sample, as well as the quantification of particle size ranges and fiber lengths. SEM/EDS analysis was used to rule out non-plastic particles and screen the prepared samples for potential microplastic, based on their element signatures and surface characteristics. Chlorinated plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) could be easily identified with SEM/EDS due to their unique elemental signatures including chlorine, as could mineral species that are falsely identified as plastics by optical microscopy. Particle morphology determined by optical microscopy and SEM suggests the fish ingested particles contained both degradation fragments from larger plastic pieces and also manufactured microplastics. SEM images of microplastic particle surfaces revealed characteristic cracks consistent with environmental exposure, as well as pigment particles consistent with manufactured materials. Most of the microplastic surfaces in the fish guts and ocean trawls were covered with biofilms, radiolarians, and crustaceans. Many of the fish stomachs contained micro-shell pieces which visually resembled microplastics.
Zhong-Min Wang, Jeff Wagner, Sutapa Ghosal, Gagandeep Bedi, Stephen Wall, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 603–604, 15 December 2017, Pages 616–626