Plastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems: macro-, meso-, and microplastic debris in a floodplain lake

Plastic pollution is considered an important environmental problem by the United Nations Environment Programme, and it is identified, alongside climate change, as an emerging issue that might affect biological diversity and human health. However, despite research efforts investigating plastics in oceans, relatively little studies have focused on freshwater systems. The aim of this study was to estimate the spatial distribution, types, and characteristics of macro-, meso-, and microplastic fragments in shoreline sediments of a freshwater lake. Food wrappers (mainly polypropylene and polystyrene), bags (high- and low-density polyethylene), bottles (polyethylene terephthalate), and disposable Styrofoam food containers (expanded polystyrene) were the dominant macroplastics recorded in this study. Contrary to other studies, herein macroplastic item surveys would not serve as surrogates for microplastic items. This is disadvantageous since macroplastic surveys are relatively easier to conduct. Otherwise, an average of 25 mesoplastics (mainly expanded polystyrene) and 704 microplastic particles (diverse resins) were recorded per square meter in sandy sediments. Comparisons with other studies from freshwater and marine beaches indicated similar relevance of plastic contamination, demonstrating for the first time that plastic pollution is a serious problem in the Paraná floodplain lakes. This study is also valuable from a social/educational point of view, since plastic waste has been ignored in the Paraná catchment as a pollutant problem, and therefore, the outcome of the current study is a relevant contribution for decision makers.

Martin C. M. Blettler, Maria Alicia Ulla, Ana Pia Rabuffetti, Nicolás Garello, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, , 189:581,

The article

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Negative effects of microplastic exposure on growth and development of Crepidula onyx

Image 1Microplastics exposure could be detrimental to marine organisms especially under high concentrations. However, few studies have considered the multiphasic nature of marine invertebrates’ life history and investigated the impact of experiencing microplastics during early development on post-metamorphic stages (legacy effect). Many planktonic larvae can feed selectively and it is unclear whether such selectivity could modulate the impact of algal food-sized microplastic. In this two-stage experiment, veligers of Crepidula onyx were first exposed to additions of algae-sized micro-polystyrene (micro-PS) beads at different concentrations, including ones that were comparable their algal diet. These additions were then either halted or continued after settlement. At environmentally relevant concentration (ten 2-μm microplastic beads ml−1), larval and juvenile C. onyx was not affected. At higher concentrations, these micro-PS fed larvae consumed a similar amount of algae compared to those in control but grew relatively slower than those in the control suggesting that ingestion and/or removal of microplastic was/were energetically costly. These larvae also settled earlier at a smaller size compared to the control, which could negatively affect post-settlement success. Juvenile C. onyx receiving continuous micro-PS addition had slower growth rates. Individuals only exposed to micro-PS during their larval stage continued to have slower growth rates than those in the control even if micro-PS had been absent in their surroundings for 65 days highlighting a legacy effect of microplastic exposure.

Hau Kwan Abby Lo, Kit Yu Karen Chan, Environmental Pollution, Volume 233, February 2018, Pages 588–595

The article

Chronic ingestion of polystyrene microparticles in low doses has no effect on food consumption and growth to the intertidal amphipod Echinogammarus marinus?

The ingestion of microplastics (plastic particles <5 mm) has been observed in a range of marine organisms, and adverse effects have been reported in several species after high concentration exposure. However, the long-term effects of low-dose ingestion remains unclear. The aim of this study was thus to assess the chronic effects of low concentrations of polystyrene microparticles to the intertidal amphipod Echinogammarus marinus, using food consumption, growth, and moulting as endpoints. Amphipods were fed a gelatinous algal feed spiked with microbeads (8 μm) in concentrations of ∼0.9, 9 and 99 microplastics/g for 35 days. E. marinus was also analysed for retention of microplastics, and egestion rate was calculated in a separate high-dose feeding experiment. No significant effects were found in the food consumption or growth assays. There was no accumulation of microplastics in the gut, with only one microbead recorded internally in three (8%) of the exposed amphipods. The low number is likely linked to gastrointestinal functions, allowing for easy egestion of indigestible items. This assumption was supported by the observation that after high-dose exposure, 60% of E. marinus egested all microbeads within 24 h. This study suggests that ingesting low concentrations of 8 μm microplastics do not impair the feeding or growth of amphipods along the exposure period. We hope that negative results such as these may further assist in assessing the impact posed by microplastics to marine organisms.

Sarah Bruck, Alex T. Ford, Environmental Pollution, Available online 14 October 2017, In Press

The article

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

The article

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

Widespread detection of a brominated flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane, in expanded polystyrene marine debris and microplastics from South Korea and the Asia-Pacific coastal region

The role of marine plastic debris and microplastics as a carrier of hazardous chemicals in the marine environment is an emerging issue. This study investigated expanded polystyrene (EPS, commonly known as styrofoam) debris, which is a common marine debris item worldwide, and its additive chemical, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). To obtain a better understanding of chemical dispersion via EPS pollution in the marine environment, intensive monitoring of HBCD levels in EPS debris and microplastics was conducted in South Korea, where EPS is the predominant marine debris originate mainly from fishing and aquaculture buoys. At the same time, EPS debris were collected from 12 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and HBCD concentrations were measured. HBCD was detected extensively in EPS buoy debris and EPS microplastics stranded along the Korean coasts, which might be related to the detection of a quantity of HBCD in non-flame-retardant EPS bead (raw material). The wide detection of the flame retardant in sea-floating buoys, and the recycling of high-HBCD-containing EPS waste inside large buoys highlight the need for proper guidelines for the production and use of EPS raw materials, and the recycling of EPS waste. HBCD was also abundantly detected in EPS debris collected from the Asia-Pacific coastal region, indicating that HBCD contamination via EPS debris is a common environmental issue worldwide. Suspected tsunami debris from Alaskan beaches indicated that EPS debris has the potential for long-range transport in the ocean, accompanying the movement of hazardous chemicals. The results of this study indicate that EPS debris can be a source of HBCD in marine environments and marine food web.

Mi Jang, Won Joon Shim, Gi Myung Han and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 1, December 2017, Pages 785-794

The article

Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Bohai Sea, China

The ubiquitous presence and persistency of microplastics in aquatic environments is of particular concern because these pollutants represent an increasing threat to marine organisms and ecosystems. An identification of the patterns of microplastic distribution will help to understand the scale of their potential effect on the environment and on organisms. In this study, the occurrence and distribution of microplastics in the Bohai Sea are reported for the first time. We sampled floating microplastics at 11 stations in the Bohai Sea using a 330 μm trawling net in August 2016. The abundance, composition, size, shape and color of collected debris samples were analyzed after pretreatment. The average microplastic concentration was 0.33 ± 0.34 particles/m3. Micro-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy analysis showed that the main types of microplastics were polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. As the size of the plastics decreased, the percentage of polypropylene increased, whereas the percentages of polyethylene and polystyrene decreased. Plastic fragments, lines, and films accounted for most of the collected samples. Accumulation at some stations could be associated with transport and retention mechanisms that are linked to wind and the dynamics of the rim current, as well as different sources of the plastics.

Weiwei Zhang, Shoufeng Zhang, Juying Wang, Yan Wang, Jingli Mu, Ping Wang, Xinzhen Lin, Deyi Ma, Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 1, December 2017, Pages 541–548