It has been hypothesized that ingestion of microplastic increases exposure of aquatic organisms to hydrophobic contaminants. To date, most laboratory studies investigated chemical transfer from ingested microplastic without taking other exposure pathways into account. Therefore we studied the effect of polyethylene (PE) microplastic in sediment on PCB uptake by Arenicola marina as a model species, quantifying uptake fluxes from all natural exposure pathways. PCB concentrations in sediment, biota lipids (Clip) and porewater measured with passive samplers were used to derive lipid-normalized bioaccumulation metrics Clip, Biota sediment accumulation factor (BSAF), Bioaccumulation factor (BAF) and the Biota plastic accumulation factor (BPAF). Small effects of PE addition were detected suggesting slightly increased or decreased bioaccumulation. However, the differences decreased in magnitude dependent on the metric used to assess bioaccumulation, in the order: Clip>BSAF>BPAF>BAF, and were non-significant for BAF. The fact that BAF, i.e. normalization of Clip on porewater concentration, largely removed all effects of PE, shows that PE did not act as a measurable vector of PCBs. Biodynamic model analysis confirmed that PE ingestion contributed marginally to bioaccumulation. This work confirmed model-based predictions on the limited relevance of microplastic for bioaccumulation under environmentally realistic conditions, and illustrated the importance of assessing exposure through all media in microplastic bioaccumulation studies.
Ellen Besseling, Edwin M. Foekema, Martine J. Van Den Heuvel-Greve, and Albert A. Koelmans, Environ. Sci. Technol., Volume 51, Issue 15, Page 8795-8804, August 1, 2017