Characterization and Analysis of Microplastics

This book aims to fulfill the gap on the existence of published analytical methodologies for the identification and quantification of microplastics. This overview includes the following main topics: introduction to the fate and behavior of microplastics in the environment, assessment of sampling techniques and sample handling, morphological, physical, and chemical characterization of microplastics, and the role of laboratory experiments in the validation of field data.

The characterization and analysis of microplastics is a hot topic considering the current need for reliable data on concentrations of microplastics in environmental compartments. This book presents a comprehensive overview of the analytical techniques and future perspectives of analytical methodologies in the field.

Comprehensive Analytical Chemistry, Volume 75, Pages 1-286 (2017), edited by Teresa A.P. Rocha-Santos and Armando C. Duarte, ISBN: 978-0-444-63898-4

The book

Determination of microplastic polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) in environmental samples using thermal analysis (TGA-DSC)

Microplastics are increasingly detected in the environment and the consequences on water resources and ecosystems are not clear to date. The present study provides a cost-effective and straightforward method to determine the mass concentrations of polymer types using thermal analysis. Characteristic endothermic phase transition temperatures were determined for seven plastic polymer types using TGA-DSC. Based on that, extracts from wastewater samples were analyzed.

Results showed that among the studied polymers, only PE and PP could be clearly identified, while the phase transition signals of the other polymers largely overlap each other. Subsequently, calibration curves were run for PE and PP for qualitative measurements. 240 and 1540 mg/m3 of solid material (12µm to 1mm) was extracted from two wastewater effluent samples of a municipal WWTP of which 34% (81 mg/m3) and 17% (257 mg/m3) could be assigned to PE, while PP was not detected in any of the samples. The presented application of TGA-DSC provides a complementary or alternative method to FT-IR analyses for the determination of PE and PP in environmental samples.

Marius Majewsky, Hajo Bitter, Elisabeth Eiche, Harald Horn, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 568, 15 October 2016, Pages 507–511

The article

Microplastics on beaches: ingestion and behavioural consequences for beachhoppers

Microplastics are ubiquitous in the marine environment worldwide, and may cause a physical and chemical risk to marine organisms. Their small size makes them bioavailable to a range of organisms with evidence of ingestion at all levels of the marine ecosystem. Despite an increasing body of research into microplastics, few studies have explored how consumption changes complex behaviours such as predator avoidance and social interactions. Pollutant exposure can result in alterations in behaviour that not only leads to sub optimal conditions for individual organisms but may also serve as a warning sign for wider effects on a system. This research assessed the impacts of microplastics on the ecology of coastal biota using beachhoppers (Platorchestia smithi) as model organisms. We exposed beachhoppers to marine-contaminated microplastics to understand effects on survival and behaviour. Beachhoppers readily ingested microplastics, and there was evidence for accumulation of microplastics within the organisms. Exposure tests showed that microplastic consumption can affect beachhopper survival. Individuals also displayed reduced jump height and an increase in weight, however, there was no significant difference in time taken to relocate shelter post disturbance. Overall, these results show that short-term ingestion of microplastics have an impact on survival and behaviour of P. smithi. A reduction in the capacity for beachhoppers to survive and function may have flow on effects to their local environment and higher trophic levels.

, Culum Brown, Jane E. Williamson, Mar Biol (2016) 163: 199

The article

Suspended micro-sized PVC particles impair the performance and decrease survival in the Asian green mussel Perna viridis

Marine bivalves are known to ingest microplastics, but information on the consequences for their physiological performance is limited. To investigate a potential exposure pathway that has not yet been addressed, we mimicked the resuspension of microplastics from the sediment in a laboratory exposure experiment. For this, we exposed the Asian green mussel Perna viridis to 4 concentrations (0 mg/l, 21.6 mg/l, 216 mg/l, 2160 mg/l) of suspended polyvinylchloride (PVC) particles (1–50 μm) for two 2-hour-time-periods per day. After 44 days, mussel filtration and respiration rates as well as byssus production were found to be a negative function of particle concentration. Furthermore, within 91 days of exposure, mussel survival declined with increasing PVC abundance. These negative effects presumably go back to prolonged periods of valve closure as a reaction to particle presence. We suggest that microplastics constitute a new seston component that exerts a stress comparable to natural suspended solids.

Sinja Elena Rist, Khoirunnisa Assidqi, Neviaty Putri Zamani and al.,  Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 111, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2016, Pages 213–220

The article

Microplastics as vectors for bioaccumulation of hydrophobic organic chemicals in the marine environment: A state-of-the-science review

A state-of-the-science review was conducted to examine the potential for microplastics to sorb hydrophobic organic chemicals (HOCs) from the marine environment, for aquatic organisms to take up these HOCs from the microplastics, and for this exposure to result in adverse effects to ecological and human health. Despite concentrations of HOCs associated with microplastics that can be orders of magnitude greater than surrounding seawater, the relative importance of microplastics as a route of exposure is difficult to quantify because aquatic organisms are typically exposed to HOCs from various compartments, including water, sediment, and food. Results of laboratory experiments and modeling studies indicate that HOCs can partition from microplastics to organisms or from organisms to microplastics, depending on experimental conditions. Very little information is available to evaluate ecological or human health effects from this exposure. Most of the available studies measured biomarkers that are more indicative of exposure than effects, and no studies showed effects to ecologically relevant endpoints. Therefore, evidence is weak to support the occurrence of ecologically significant adverse effects on aquatic life as a result of exposure to HOCs sorbed to microplastics or to wildlife populations and humans from secondary exposure via the food chain. More data are needed to fully understand the relative importance of exposure to HOCs from microplastics compared with other exposure pathways.

Ziccardi, L. M., Edgington, A., Hentz, K., Kulacki, K. J. and Kane Driscoll, S.,  Environ Toxicol Chem., May 2016

The article

Intestinal alterations in European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax (Linnaeus, 1758) exposed to microplastics: Preliminary results


This study investigates, for the first time, the intestinal responses of European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax chronically exposed to microplastics through ingestion. Fish (n = 162) were fed with 3 different treatment diets for 90 days: control, native polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polluted polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pellets. Intestines were fixed and processed for histological analysis using standard techniques. Histopathological alterations were examined using a score value (from 0 to 4). The distal part of intestine in all samples proved to be the most affected by pathological alterations, showing a gradual change varying from moderate to severe related to exposure times. The histological picture that characterizes both groups especially after 90 days of exposure, suggests that the intestinal functions can be in some cases totally compromised.

The worst condition is increasingly evident in the distal intestine of fish fed with polluted PVC pellets respect to control groups (p < 0.05) to different exposure times.

These first results underline the need to assess the impact of increasing microplastics pollution on the marine trophic web.

Cristina Pedà, Letteria Caccamo, Maria Cristina Fossi and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 212, Pages 251–256, May 2016

The article


Surface properties of beached plastics

Studying plastic characteristics in the marine environment is important to better understand interaction between plastics and the environment. In the present study, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyethylene terephalate (PET), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) samples were collected from the coastal environment in order to study their surface properties. Surface properties such as surface functional groups, surface topography, point of zero charge, and color change are important factors that change during degradation. Eroded HDPE demonstrated an altered surface topography and color and new functional groups. Eroded PET surface was uneven, yellow, and occasionally, colonized by microbes. A decrease in Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) peaks was observed for eroded PET suggesting that degradation had occurred. For eroded PVC, its surface became more lamellar and a new FTIR peak was observed. These surface properties were obtained due to degradation and could be used to explain the interaction between plastics, microbes, and pollutants.

Kalliopi N. Fotopoulou, Hrissi K. Karapanagioti, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Volume 22, Issue 14, pp 11022-11032, July 2015

The article