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


Plastic pollution in islands of the Atlantic Ocean

Marine plastic pollution is present in all oceans, including remote oceanic islands. Despite the increasing number of articles on plastic pollution in the last years, there is still a lack of studies in islands, that are biodiversity hotspots when compared to the surrounding ocean, and even other recognized highly biodiverse marine environments. Articles published in the peer reviewed literature (N = 20) were analysed according to the presence of macro (>5 mm) and microplastics (<5 mm) on beaches and the marine habitats immediately adjacent to 31 islands of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The first articles date from the 1980s, but most were published in the 2000s. Articles on macroplastics were predominant in this review (N = 12). Beaches were the most studied environment, possibly due to easy access. The main focus of most articles was the spatial distribution of plastics associated with variables such as position of the beach in relation to wind and currents. Very few studies have analysed plastics colonization by organisms or the identification of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Islands of the North/South Atlantic and Caribbean Sea were influenced by different sources of macroplastics, being marine-based sources (i.e., fishing activities) predominant in the Atlantic Ocean basin. On the other hand, in the Caribbean Sea, land-based sources were more common.

Raqueline C. P. Monteiro, Juliana A. Ivar do Sul, Monica F. Costa, Environmental Pollution, Volume 238, July 2018, Pages 103–110

The article

Microplastics in Polar Regions: the role of long range transport

Microplastics (particles <5 mm) pose a threat to the marine ecosystem that is disproportionate to their tiny size. They have been found in high numbers in sea water and sediments, and are interacting with organisms and the environment in a variety of ways. Recently their presence has been confirmed in Polar water, sediment, and sea ice. We review the recent literature on microplastic distribution and transport in marine environments, primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, summarize current understanding, identify gaps in understanding, and suggest future research priorities.

Rachel W. Obbard, Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, Available online 13 December 2017, In Press

Molecular identification of polymers and anthropogenic particles extracted from oceanic water and fish stomach – A Raman micro-spectroscopy study

Pacific Ocean trawl samples, stomach contents of laboratory-raised fish as well as fish from the subtropical gyres were analyzed by Raman micro-spectroscopy (RMS) to identify polymer residues and any detectable persistent organic pollutants (POP). The goal was to access specific molecular information at the individual particle level in order to identify polymer debris in the natural environment. The identification process was aided by a laboratory generated automated fluorescence removal algorithm. Pacific Ocean trawl samples of plastic debris associated with fish collection sites were analyzed to determine the types of polymers commonly present. Subsequently, stomach contents of fish from these locations were analyzed for ingested polymer debris. Extraction of polymer debris from fish stomach using KOH versus ultrapure water were evaluated to determine the optimal method of extraction. Pulsed ultrasonic extraction in ultrapure water was determined to be the method of choice for extraction with minimal chemical intrusion. The Pacific Ocean trawl samples yielded primarily polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) particles >1 mm, PE being the most prevalent type. Additional microplastic residues (1 mm – 10 μm) extracted by filtration, included a polystyrene (PS) particle in addition to PE and PP. Flame retardant, deca-BDE was tentatively identified on some of the PP trawl particles. Polymer residues were also extracted from the stomachs of Atlantic and Pacific Ocean fish. Two types of polymer related debris were identified in the Atlantic Ocean fish: (1) polymer fragments and (2) fragments with combined polymer and fatty acid signatures. In terms of polymer fragments, only PE and PP were detected in the fish stomachs from both locations. A variety of particles were extracted from oceanic fish as potential plastic pieces based on optical examination. However, subsequent RMS examination identified them as various non-plastic fragments, highlighting the importance of chemical analysis in distinguishing between polymer and non-polymer residues.

Sutapa Ghosal, Michael Chen, Jeff Wagner, Zhong-Min Wang, Stephen Wall, Environmental Pollution, Volume 233, February 2018, Pages 1113-1124

The article

Marine debris boost in juvenile Magellanic penguins stranded in south-eastern Brazil in less than a decade: Insights into feeding habits and habitat use

The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is a marine sentinel for the southern Atlantic Ocean that is a proxy of environmental quality. The presence of marine debris (macro-debris) in the stomach contents of emaciated juvenile penguins stranded from 21°S to 23°S was compared at different times (2000 and 2008), and the debris ingestion pathway was determined. The frequency of marine debris in the stomachs doubled in less than a decade, and flexible plastics remained the main ingested item over time (68–70%). The pelagic octopus, Argonauta nodosa, which inhabits the sea surface, was the most important prey species recovered in the stomach contents. The poor physical condition of the penguins that reach the northern migration limit (study area) reduces the diving capacity of the animals and increases their vulnerability to debris ingestion. Considering their preferred prey and physical condition, we conclude that the penguins likely ingested the marine debris in surface waters.

Ana Paula Madeira Di Beneditto, Salvatore Siciliano, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 125, Issues 1–2, 15 December 2017, Pages 330-333

The article

Microplastic pollution identified in deep-sea water and ingested by benthic invertebrates in the Rockall Trough, North Atlantic Ocean

Microplastics are widespread in the natural environment and present numerous ecological threats. While the ultimate fate of marine microplastics are not well known, it is hypothesized that the deep sea is the final sink for this anthropogenic contaminant. This study provides a quantification and characterisation of microplastic pollution ingested by benthic macroinvertebrates with different feeding modes (Ophiomusium lymani, Hymenaster pellucidus and Colus jeffreysianus) and in adjacent deep water > 2200 m, in the Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Despite the remote location, microplastic fibres were identified in deep-sea water at a concentration of 70.8 particles m−3, comparable to that in surface waters. Of the invertebrates examined (n = 66), 48% ingested microplastics with quantities enumerated comparable to coastal species. The number of ingested microplastics differed significantly between species and generalized linear modelling identified that the number of microplastics ingested for a given tissue mass was related to species and not organism feeding mode or the length or overall weight of the individual. Deep-sea microplastics were visually highly degraded with surface areas more than double that of pristine particles. The identification of synthetic polymers with densities greater and less than seawater along with comparable quantities to the upper ocean indicates processes of vertical re-distribution. This study presents the first snapshot of deep ocean microplastics and the quantification of microplastic pollution in the Rockall Trough. Additional sampling throughout the deep-sea is required to assess levels of microplastic pollution, vertical transportation and sequestration, which have the potential to impact the largest global ecosystem.

Winnie Courtene-Jones, Brian Quinn, Stefan F. Gary, Andrew O.M. Mogg, Bhavani E. Narayanaswamy, Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 1, December 2017, Pages 271-280

The article

Dirty laundry : Are your clothes polluting the ocean?

In an indoor “Manchester-drizzle-simulating” rain room at the University of Leeds, and in a laundry lab in Plymouth, research is revealing the unexpected environmental cost of the very clothes on our backs. (…)

And in a recent lab study, they found that polyester and acrylic clothing shed thousands of plastic fibres each time it was washed- sending another source of plastic pollution down the drain and, eventually, into the ocean. (…) (, 6/07/2017)

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