Sticky tape and simulations help assess microplastic risk

Tiny pieces of plastic, now ubiquitous in the marine environment, have long been a cause of concern for their ability to absorb toxic substances and potentially penetrate the food chain. Now scientists are beginning to understand the level of threat posed to life, by gauging the extent of marine accumulation and tracking the movement of these contaminants. (…)

N. Grover, Horizon EU magazine, 23/04/2018

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Interaction of toxic chemicals with microplastics: A critical review

Occurrence of microplastics (MPs) in the environment has attracted great attention as it has become a global concern. This review aims to systematically demonstrate the role of marine microplastic as a novel medium for environmental partitioning of chemicals in the ocean, which can cause toxic effects in the ecological environment. This review assimilated and analyzed available data published between 1972 and 2017 on the interaction between MPs and selected chemicals. Firstly, the review analyzes the occurrence of chemicals in MPs and outlines their distribution patterns. Then possible mechanisms of the interaction between MPs and organic chemicals and potential controlling factors were critically studied. Finally, the hazards of MPs and affiliated organic chemicals to marine organisms were shortly summarized.

F. Wang, C. S. Wong, D. Chen and al., Water Research, Volume 139, 1 August 2018, Pages 208-219

The article

Microplastics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Xiamen coastal areas: Implications for anthropogenic impacts

Microplastics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were investigated to study the influence of human activities and to find their possible relationship on the coastal environments, where the coastal areas around Xiamen are undergoing intensive processes of industrialization and urbanization in the southeast China. The abundance of microplastics in Xiamen coastal areas was 103 to 2017 particles/m3 in surface seawater and 76 to 333 particles/kg in sediments. Concentrations of dissolved PAHs varied from 18.1 to 248 ng/L in surface seawater. The abundances of microplastics from the Western Harbor in surface seawater and sediments were higher than those from other areas. Foams were dominated in surface seawater samples, however, no foams were found in sediments samples. The microscope selection and FTIR analysis suggested that polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) were dominant microplastics. The cluster analysis results demonstrated that fibers and granules had the similar sources, and films had considerably correlation with all types of PAHs (3 or 4-ring PAHs and alkylated PAHs). Plastic film mulch from agriculture practice might be a potential source of microplastics in study areas. Results of our study support that river runoff, watershed area, population and urbanization rate influence the distribution of microplastics in estuarine surface water, and the prevalence of microplastic pollution calls for monitoring microplastics at a national scale.

G. Tang, M. Liu, Q. Zhou and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volume 634, 1 September 2018, Pages 811-820

The article

The hidden microplastics. New insights and figures from the thorough separation and characterization of microplastics and of their degradation by-products in coastal sediments

The environmental pollution by plastic debris directly dispersed in or eventually reaching marine habitats is raising increasing concern not only for the vulnerability of marine species to ingestion and entanglement by macroscopic debris, but also for the potential hazards from smaller fragments down to a few micrometer size, often referred to as “microplastics”. A novel procedure for the selective quantitative and qualitative determination of organic solvent soluble microplastics and microplastics degradation products (<2mm) in shoreline sediments was adopted to evaluate their concentration and distribution over the different sectors of a Tuscany (Italy) beach. Solvent extraction followed by gravimetric determination and chemical characterization by FT-IR, Pyrolysis-GC-MS, GPC and 1H-NMR analyses showed the presence of up to 30 mg microplastics in 1 kg sand, a figure corresponding to about 5.5 g of generally undetected and largely underestimated microplastics in the upper 10 cm layer of a square meter of sandy beach ! The extracted microplastic material was essentially polystyrene and polyolefin by-products from oxidative degradation and erosion of larger fragments, with accumulation mainly above the storm berm. Chain scission and oxidation processes cause significant variations in the physical and chemical features of microplastics, promoting their adsorption onto sand particles and thus their persistence in the sediments.

Alessio Ceccarini, Andrea Corti, Francesca Erba, Francesca Modugno, Jacopo La Nasa, Sabrina Bianchi, and Valter Castelvetro, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, April 23, 2018

Microplastics ‘found in nearly all bottled water’ – study

Tests on some of the world’s leading brands of bottled water have found most contain tiny pieces of plastic.

Some 259 bottles from 11 brands in nine countries – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Thailand, and the US – were examined in research conducted at the State University of New York.

The study found 93% of the samples showed signs of microplastics, with an average of 10 plastic particles per litre, each larger than the width of a human hair.

Polypropylene, often used to make plastic bottle caps, was found to be the most common material (54%) with nylon being the second most abundant (16%).

The World Health Organisation has said it will launch a review into the potential risks of tiny plastic particles in bottled water. (…) (news.sky.com, 15/03/2018)

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The study

Identification and quantitation of semi-crystalline microplastics using image analysis and differential scanning calorimetry

There are several techniques used to analyze microplastics. These are often based on a combination of visual and spectroscopic techniques. Here we introduce an alternative workflow for identification and mass quantitation through a combination of optical microscopy with image analysis (IA) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). We studied four synthetic polymers with environmental concern: low and high density polyethylene (LDPE and HDPE, respectively), polypropylene (PP), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Selected experiments were conducted to investigate (i) particle characterization and counting procedures based on image analysis with open-source software, (ii) chemical identification of microplastics based on DSC signal processing, (iii) dependence of particle size on DSC signal, and (iv) quantitation of microplastics mass based on DSC signal. We describe the potential and limitations of these techniques to increase reliability for microplastic analysis. Particle size demonstrated to have particular incidence in the qualitative and quantitative performance of DSC signals. Both, identification (based on characteristic onset temperature) and mass quantitation (based on heat flow) showed to be affected by particle size. As a result, a proper sample treatment which includes sieving of suspended particles is particularly required for this analytical approach.

Mauricio Rodríguez Chialanza, Ignacio Sierra, Andrés Pérez Parada, Laura Fornaro, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, pp 1–9, April 2018

Virgin microplastics are not causing imminent harm to fish after dietary exposure

Among aquatic organisms, fish are particularly susceptible to ingesting microplastic particles due to their attractive coloration, buoyancy, and resemblance to food. However, in previous experimental setups, fish were usually exposed to unrealistically high concentrations of microplastics, or the microplastics were deliberately contaminated with persistent organic chemicals; also, in many experiments, the fish were exposed only during the larval stages. The present study investigated the effects of virgin microplastics in gilt-head seabream (Sparus aurata) after 45 days’ exposure at 0.1 g kg−1 bodyweight day−1 to 6 common types of microplastics. The overall growth, biochemical analyses of the blood, histopathology, and the potential of the microplastics to accumulate in gastrointestinal organs or translocate to the liver and muscles were monitored and recorded. The results revealed that ingestion of virgin microplastics does not cause imminent harm to the adult gilt-head seabream during 45 days of exposure and an additional 30 days of depuration. The retention of virgin microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract was fairly low, indicating effective elimination of microplastics from the body of the fish and no significant accumulation after successive meals. Therefore, both the short- and the long-term retention potential of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of fish is close to zero. However, some large particles remained trapped in the liver, and 5.3% of all the livers analyzed contained at least one microplastic particle. In conclusion, the dietary exposure of S. aurata to 6 common types of virgin microplastics did not induce stress, alter the growth rate, cause pathology, or cause the microplastics to accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract of the fish.

Boris Jovanović, Kerem Gökdağ, Olgaç Güven and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 130, May 2018, Pages 123-131

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