Plastic bag derived-microplastics as a vector for metal exposure in terrestrial invertebrates

Microplastics are widespread contaminants in terrestrial environments but comparatively little is known about interactions between microplastics and common terrestrial contaminants such as zinc (Zn). In adsorption experiments fragmented HDPE bags c. one mm2 in size showed similar sorption characteristics to soil. However, when present in combination with soil, concentrations of adsorbed Zn on a per mass basis were over an order of magnitude lower on microplastics. Desorption of the Zn was minimal from both microplastics and soil in synthetic soil solution (0.01 M CaCl2), but in synthetic earthworm guts desorption was higher from microplastics (40–60%) than soil (2–15%), suggesting microplastics could increase Zn bioavailability. Individual Lumbricus terrestris earthworms exposed for 28 days in mesocosms of 260 g moist soil containing 0.35 wt % of Zn-bearing microplastic (236–4505 mg kg–1) ingested the microplastics, but there was no evidence of Zn accumulation, mortality, or weight change. Digestion of the earthworms showed that they did not retain microplastics in their gut. These findings indicate that microplastics could act as vectors to increase metal exposure in earthworms, but that the associated risk is unlikely to be significant for essential metals such as Zn that are well regulated by metabolic processes.

Mark E. Hodson, Calum A. Duffus-Hodson, Andy Clark, Miranda T. Prendergast-Miller, and Karen L. Thorpe, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, 29 March 2017

The article

Microplastics in the surface sediments from the Beijiang River littoral zone: Composition, abundance, surface textures and interaction with heavy metals

While large quantities of studies on microplastics in the marine environment have been widely carried out, few were available in the freshwater environment. The occurrence and characteristics, including composition, abundance, surface texture and interaction with heavy metals, of microplastics in the surface sediments from Beijiang River littoral zone were investigated. The concentrations of microplastics ranged from 178 ± 69 to 544 ± 107 items/kg sediment. SEM images illustrated that pits, fractures, flakes and adhering particles were the common patterns of degradation. Chemical weathering of microplastics was also observed and confirmed by μ-FTIR. EDS spectra displayed difference in the elemental types of metals on the different surface sites of individual microplastic, indicating that some metals carried by microplastics were not inherent but were derived from the environment. The content of metals (Ni, Cd, Pb, Cu, Zn and Ti) in microplastics after ultrasonic cleaning has been analyzed by ICP-MS. Based on data from the long-term sorption of metals by microplastics and a comparison of metal burden between microplastics, macroplastics and fresh plastic products, we suggested that the majority of heavy metals carried by microplastics were derived from inherent load.

Jundong Wang, Jinping Peng, Zhi Tan and al.,Chemosphere, Volume 171, March 2017, Pages 248–258

The article

Microplastics as vector for heavy metal contamination from the marine environment

The permanent presence of microplastics in the marine environment is considered a global threat to several marine animals. Heavy metals and microplastics are typically included in two different classes of pollutants but the interaction between these two stressors is poorly understood.

During 14 days of experimental manipulation, we examined the adsorption of two heavy metals, copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn), leached from an antifouling paint to virgin polystyrene (PS) beads and aged polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fragments in seawater. We demonstrated that heavy metals were released from the antifouling paint to the water and both microplastic types adsorbed the two heavy metals. This adsorption kinetics was described using partition coefficients and mathematical models. Partition coefficients between pellets and water ranged between 650 and 850 for Cu on PS and PVC, respectively. The adsorption of Cu was significantly greater in PVC fragments than in PS, probably due to higher surface area and polarity of PVC. Concentrations of Cu and Zn increased significantly on PVC and PS over the course of the experiment with the exception of Zn on PS. As a result, we show a significant interaction between these types of microplastics and heavy metals, which can have implications for marine life and the environment. These results strongly support recent findings where plastics can play a key role as vectors for heavy metal ions in the marine system. Finally, our findings highlight the importance of monitoring marine litter and heavy metals, mainly associated with antifouling paints, particularly in the framework of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Dennis Brennecke, Bernardo Duarte, Filipa Paiva, Isabel Caçador, João Canning-Clode, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Volume 178, 5 September 2016, Pages 189–195

The article