Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a major component of marine debris globally. Recently, hazardous hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDDs) were detected in EPS buoys used for aquaculture farming. Subsequently, enrichment of HBCDDs was found in nearby marine sediments and mussels growing on EPS buoys. It was suspected that EPS buoys and their debris might be sources of HBCDDs. To confirm this, the release of HBCDDs from EPS spherules detached from a buoy to seawater was investigated under field (open sea surface and closed outdoor chambers with sun exposure and in the dark) and laboratory (particle-size) conditions. In all exposure groups, initial rapid leaching of HBCDDs was followed by slow desorption over time. Abundant release of HBCDDs was observed from EPS spherules exposed to the open sea surface (natural) and on exposure to sunlight irradiation or in the dark in controlled saline water. Water leaching and UV-light/temperature along with possibly biodegradation were responsible for about 37% and 12% of HBCDDs flux, respectively. Crumbled EPS particles (≤ 1 mm) in samples deployed on the sea surface for 6 months showed a high degree of weathering. This implies that surface erosion and further fragmentation of EPS via environmental weathering could enhance the leaching of HBCDDs from the surface of EPS. Overall, in the marine environment, HBCDDs could be released to a great extent from EPS products and their debris due to the cumulative effects of the movement of large volumes of water (dilution), biodegradation, UV-light/temperature, wave action (shaking), salinity and further fragmentation of EPS spherules.
Manviri Rani, Won Joon Shim, Mi Jang and al., Chemosphere, Vol. 185, Oct. 2017