A simple method to quantify PC and PET microplastics in the environmental samples by LC-MS/MS

Occurrence of microplastics (MPs) in the environments have been frequently reported. However, studies on the quantification methods for MPs are still needed. Plastics are polymers of different degrees of polymerization. In this study, alkali assisted thermal hydrolysis was applied to depolymerize two plastics containing ester groups, polycarbonate (PC) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), in pentanol or butanol system. By determining the concentrations of the depolymerized building block compounds, i.e. bisphenol A (BPA) and para-phthalic acid (PTA), the amounts of PC and PET MPs in the environmental samples were quantified. Recoveries of 87.2-97.1% were obtained for the PC and PET plastics particles spiked in the landfill sludge. The method was successfully applied to determine the occurrence of PC and PET MPs in the samples of sludge, marine sediments, indoor dust, digestive residues in mussel and clam, as well as in sea salt and rock salt. High concentrations of 246 and 430 mg/kg were determined for PC and PET type MP in an indoor dust, respectively. In addition, 63.7 mg/kg of PC and 127 mg/kg of PET were detected in the digestive residues of a clam.

Lei Wang, Junjie Zhang, Shaogang Hou, and Hongwen Sun, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., Just Accepted Manuscript, November 2, 2017
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Impact of microplastic beads and fibers on waterflea (Ceriodaphnia dubia) survival, growth, and reproduction: implications of single and mixture exposures

There is limited knowledge regarding the adverse effects of wastewater-derived microplastics, particularly fibers, on aquatic biota. In this study, we examined the acute (48 h) and chronic (8 d) effects of microplastic polyester fibers and polyethylene (PE) beads on freshwater zooplankton Ceriodaphnia dubia. We also assessed the acute response of C. dubia to a binary mixture of microplastic beads and fibers for the first time. Acute exposure to fibers and PE beads both showed a dose-dependent effect on survival. An equitoxic binary mixture of beads and fibers resulted in a toxic unit of 1.85 indicating less than additive effects. Chronic exposure to lower concentrations did not significantly affect survival of C. dubia, but a dose-dependent effect on growth and reproduction was observed. Fibers showed greater adverse effects than PE beads. While ingestion of fibers was not observed, scanning electron microscopy showed carapace and antenna deformities after exposure to fibers, with no deformities observed after exposure to PE beads. While much of the current research has focused on microplastic beads, our study shows that microplastic fibers pose a greater risk to C. dubia, with reduced reproductive output observed at concentrations within an order of magnitude of reported environmental levels.

Shima Ziajahromi, Anupama Kumar, Peta A. Neale, and Frederic D. L. Leusch, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, October 23, 2017

Are we underestimating microplastic contamination in aquatic environments?

Plastic debris, specifically microplastic in the aquatic environment, is an escalating environmental crisis. Efforts at national scales to reduce or ban microplastics in personal care products are starting to pay off, but this will not affect those materials already in the environment or those that result from unregulated products and materials. To better inform future microplastic research and mitigation efforts this study (1) evaluates methods currently used to quantify microplastics in the environment and (2) characterizes the concentration and size distribution of microplastics in a variety of products. In this study, 50 published aquatic surveys were reviewed and they demonstrated that most (~80%) only account for plastics ≥ 300 μm in diameter. In addition, we surveyed 770 personal care products to determine the occurrence, concentration and size distribution of polyethylene microbeads. Particle concentrations ranged from 1.9 to 71.9 mg g−1 of product or 1649 to 31,266 particles g−1 of product. The large majority ( > 95%) of particles in products surveyed were less than the 300 μm minimum diameter, indicating that previous environmental surveys could be underestimating microplastic contamination. To account for smaller particles as well as microfibers from synthetic textiles, we strongly recommend that future surveys consider methods that materials < 300 μm in diameter.

Jeremy L. Conkle, Christian D. Báez Del Valle, Jeffrey W. Turner, Environmental Management, pp 1–8,

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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, Available online 13 October 2017, In Press

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Biodegradability of plastics: challenges and misconceptions

Plastics are one of the most widely used materials and, in most cases, they are designed to have long life times. Thus, plastics contain a complex blend of stabilizers that prevent them from degrading too quickly. Unfortunately, many of the most advantageous properties of plastics such as their chemical, physical and biological inertness and durability present challenges when plastic is released into the environment. Common plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are extremely persistent in the environment, where they undergo very slow fragmentation (projected to take centuries) into small particles through photo-, physical, and biological degradation processes1. The fragmentation of the material into increasingly smaller pieces is an unavoidable stage of the degradation process. Ultimately, plastic materials degrade to micron-sized particles (microplastics), which are persistent in the environment and present a potential source of harm for organisms.

Stephan Kubowicz and Andy M. Booth, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, October 12, 2017

Ingestion of microplastics by freshwater Tubifex worms

Microplastic contamination of the aquatic environment is a global issue. Microplastics can be ingested by organisms leading to negative physiological impacts. The ingestion of microplastics by freshwater invertebrates has not been reported outside the laboratory. Here we demonstrate the ingestion of microplastic particles by Tubifex tubifex in a major urban waterbody fed by the River Irwell, Manchester, UK. The host sediments had microplastic concentrations ranging from 56 to 2544 particles kg-1. 87% of the Tubifex ingested microplastic particles were microfibres (55 – 4100 µm in length), whilst the remaining 13% were fragments (50 – 4500 µm in length). FT-IR analysis revealed ingestion of a range of polymers, including polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) and acrylic fibres. Whilst microbeads were present in the host sediment matrix, they were not detected in Tubifex worm tissue. However, there was limited selectivity in the ingestion of microplastics within the fragment or fiber subtypes. The mean concentration of ingested microplastics was 129 ± 65.4 particles g-1 tissue. We also show that Tubifex worms retain microplastics longer than other components of the ingested sediment matrix. Microplastic ingestion by Tubifex worms poses a significant risk for trophic transfer and biomagnification of microplastics up the aquatic food chain.

Rachel R Hurley, Jamie C Woodward, and James J. Rothwell, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, October 11, 2017

Occurrence and distribution of microplastics at selected coastal sites along the southeastern United States

To investigate the occurrence and distribution of microplastics in the southeastern coastal region of the United States, we quantified the amount of microplastics in sand samples from multiple coastal sites and developed a predictive model to understand the drift of plastics via ocean currents. Sand samples from eighteen National Park Service (NPS) beaches in the Southeastern Region were collected and microplastics were isolated from each sample. Microplastic counts were compared among sites and local geography was used to make inferences about sources and modes of distribution. Samples were analyzed to identify the composition of particles using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). To predict the spatiotemporal distribution and movements of particles via coastal currents, a Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) was applied. Microplastics were detected in each of the sampled sites although abundance among sites was highly variable. Approximately half of the samples were dominated by thread-like and fibrous materials as opposed to beads and particles. Results of FTIR suggested that 24% consisted of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), while about 68% of the fibers tested were composed of man-made cellulosic materials such as rayon. Based on published studies examining sources of microplastics, the shape of the particles found here (mostly fibers) and the presence of PET, we infer the source of microplastics in coastal areas is mainly from urban areas, such as wastewater discharge, rather than breakdown of larger marine debris drifting in the ocean. Local geographic features, e.g., the nearness of sites to large rivers and urbanized areas, explain variance in amount of microplastics among sites. Additionally, the distribution of simulated particles is explained by ocean current patterns; computer simulations were correlated with field observations, reinforcing the idea that ocean currents can be a good predictor of the fate and distribution of microplastics at the sites sampled here.

Xubiao Yu, Samantha Ladewig, Shaowu Bao, Catherine A. Toline, Stefanie Whitmire, Alex T. Chow, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 613–614, 1 February 2018, Pages 298-305

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