Risk assessment of microplastics in the ocean: Modelling approach and first conclusions

We performed an environmental risk assessment for microplastics (<5 mm) in the marine environment by estimating the order of magnitude of the past, present and future concentrations based on global plastic production data. In 2100, from 9.6 to 48.8 particles m−3 are predicted to float around in the ocean, which is a 50-fold increase compared to the present-day concentrations. From a meta-analysis with effect data available in literature, we derived a safe concentration of 6650 buoyant particles m−3 below which adverse effects are not likely to occur. Our risk assessment (excluding the potential role of microplastics as chemical vectors) suggests that on average, no direct effects of free-floating microplastics in the marine environment are to be expected up to the year 2100. Yet, even today, the safe concentration can be exceeded in sites that are heavily polluted with buoyant microplastics. In the marine benthic compartment between 32 and 144 particles kg−1 dry sediment are predicted to be present in the beach deposition zone. Despite the scarcity of effect data, we expect adverse ecological effects along the coast as of the second half of the 21st century. From then ambient concentrations will start to outrange the safe concentration of sedimented microplastics (i.e. 540 particles kg−1 sediment). Additional ecotoxicological research in which marine species are chronically exposed to realistic environmental microplastic concentration series are urgently needed to verify our findings.

Gert Everaert, Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe, Maarten De Rijcke and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 242, Part B, November 2018, Pages 1930-1938

The article


Incidence and identification of microfibers in ocean waters in Admiralty Bay, Antarctica

Antarctic pristine environment is threatened by the presence of microplastics that occur in a variety of shapes and sizes, from fibers to irregular fragments. The aim of this study is to assess the abundance, distribution, and the characterization of the microfibers in zooplankton samples found in ocean waters in Admiralty Bay, Antarctica. The samples were collected at five points in Admiralty Bay during the XXIX Brazilian Antarctic Expedition in the austral summer of 2010–2011. A total of 603 microfibers were collected in 60 samples, with an average abundance of 2.40 (± 4.57) microfibers 100 m−3. Microfiber size ranging from ca. 10 to 22 μm in diameter of various lengths and colors (blue, red, black, and clear) was collected and characterized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and Raman spectroscopy. Most of these microfibers were entangled in various different zooplankton species and were identified as polymers composed mostly by polyethyleneglycols, polyurethanes, polyethylene terephthalates, and polyamides. The presence of such microfibers may cause the loss of biodiversity in the Antarctic continent, and the results presented herein can contribute to a better understanding of the impact caused by them within the food chain and human health.

Theresinha Monteiro Absher, Silvio Luiz Ferreira, Yargos Kern, Augusto Luiz FerreiraJr, Susete Wambier Christo, Rômulo Augusto Ando, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, , Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 292–298

The article

Microplastics contaminate the deepest part of the world’s ocean

Millions of metric tons of plastics are produced annually and transported from land to the oceans. Finding the fate of the plastic debris will help define the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean. Here, we report the abundances of microplastic in the deepest part of the world’s ocean. We found that microplastic abundances in hadal bottom waters range from 2.06 to 13.51 pieces per litre, several times higher than those in open ocean subsurface water. Moreover, microplastic abundances in hadal sediments of the Mariana Trench vary from 200 to 2200 pieces per litre, distinctly higher than those in most deep sea sediments. These results suggest that manmade plastics have contaminated the most remote and deepest places on the planet. The hadal zone is likely one of the largest sinks for microplastic debris on Earth, with unknown but potentially damaging impacts on this fragile ecosystem.

X. Peng, M. Chen, S. Chen and al., Geochemical Perspectives Letters v9, Published 27 November 2018

The article

Double trouble in the South Pacific subtropical gyre: Increased plastic ingestion by fish in the oceanic accumulation zone

Fish are an important food source for South Pacific (SP) island countries, yet there is little information on contamination of commercial marine fish species by plastic. The aim of our study was to perform a broad-scale assessment of plastic ingestion by fish common in the diet of SP inhabitants. We examined 932 specimens from 34 commercial fish species across four SP locations, and some of the prey they ingested, for the presence of marine plastics. Plastic was found in 33 species, with an average ingestion rate (IR) of 24.3 ± 1.4% and plastic load of 2.4 ± 0.2 particles per fish. Rapa Nui fish exhibited the greatest IR (50.0%), significantly greater than in other three locations. Rapa Nui is located within the SP subtropical gyre, where the concentration of marine plastics is high and food is limited. Plastic was also found in prey, which confirms the trophic transfer of microplastics.

A. Markic, C. Niemand, J. H. Bridson and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 136, November 2018, Pages 547-564

The article

Effects of polymethylmethacrylate nanoplastics on Dicentrarchus labrax

The present study aimed to evaluate the effects of ~45 nm nanoplastics (NPs) on the marine fish Dicentrarchus labrax after a short-term exposure. Animals were exposed to a concentration range of NPs for 96 h and liver, plasma and skin mucus were sampled. Assessed endpoints included biochemical biomarkers and expression of genes related to lipid metabolism, immune system and general cell stress. Abundance of mRNA transcripts related to lipid metabolism, pparα and pparγ, were significantly increased after exposure to NPs. Biochemical endpoints revealed decreased esterase activity levels in plasma, suggesting that the immune system of fish might be compromised by exposure to NPs. Moreover, significantly lower levels of alkaline phosphatase were found in the skin mucus of animals exposed to NPs. The present results suggest that NPs may represent a hazard to this marine fish, potentially interfering with the metabolism of lipids and the correct function of the immune response.

I. Brandts, M. Teles, A. Tvarijonaviciute and al., Genomics, Volume 110, Issue 6, November 2018, Pages 435-441

The article

Low prevalence of microplastic contamination in planktivorous fish species from the southeast Pacific Ocean

The gut contents of 292 planktivorous fish, from four families (Atherinopsidae, Clupeidae, Engraulidae and Scombridae) and seven species, captured along the coast of the southeast Pacific, were examined for microplastic contamination. Only a small fraction of all studied fish (2.1%; 6 individuals) contained microplastic particles in their digestive tract. Microplastics found were degraded hard fragments and threads, ranging from 1.1 to 4.9 (3.8 ± SD 2.4) mm in length, and of various colours, which suggests that the planktivorous fish species examined herein did not capture microplastics on the basis of their colour. The low prevalence of microplastic contamination in planktivorous fishes found in this study suggests that the risk of accidental ingestion by these species might be limited in the coastal upwelled waters of the southeast Pacific, perhaps due to small human population and highly dynamic oceanographic processes.

N. Ory, C. Chagnon, F. Felix and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 127, February 2018, Pages 211-216

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