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


Enzymatic purification of microplastics in environmental samples

Micro-Fourier transform infrared (micro-FTIR) spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy enable the reliable identification and quantification of microplastics (MPs) in the lower micron range. Since concentrations of MPs in the environment are usually low, the large sample volumes required for these techniques lead to an excess of coenriched organic or inorganic materials. While inorganic materials can be separated from MPs using density separation, the organic fraction impedes the ability to conduct reliable analyses. Hence, the purification of MPs from organic materials is crucial prior to conducting an identification via spectroscopic techniques. Strong acidic or alkaline treatments bear the danger of degrading sensitive synthetic polymers. We suggest an alternative method, which uses a series of technical grade enzymes for purifying MPs in environmental samples. A basic enzymatic purification protocol (BEPP) proved to be efficient while reducing 98.3 ± 0.1% of the sample matrix in surface water samples. After showing a high recovery rate (84.5 ± 3.3%), the BEPP was successfully applied to environmental samples from the North Sea where numbers of MPs range from 0.05 to 4.42 items m–3. Experiences with different environmental sample matrices were considered in an improved and universally applicable version of the BEPP, which is suitable for focal plane array detector (FPA)-based micro-FTIR analyses of water, wastewater, sediment, biota, and food samples.

Löder M., Imhof H. K., Ladehoff M. and al., Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, November 7, 2017

The article

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

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

Variation in plastic abundance at different lake beach zones – A case study

Image 2Plastic particles in marine and freshwater environments span from macroscopic to microscopic size classes. Each may have a different impact on individuals, populations and ecosystems, but still the wide variety of methods used in beach sediment sampling inhibit comparisons among studies and therefore hampers a risk assessment. A large portion of the uncertainties is due to differing sampling strategies.

By quantifying the alongshore distribution of macro- and microplastic particles within five beaches of Lake Garda, we aim to shed light on the accumulation behavior of microplastic particles at an exemplary lake which might give indications for potential sampling zones. The identification of plastic at the single particle level with a spatial resolution down to 1 μm was performed by Raman microspectroscopy. Given the time consuming approach we reduced the number of samples in the field but increased the spatial area where a single sample was taken, by utilizing a transect approach in combination with sediment cores (5 cm depth).

The study revealed that, in comparison to the water line and the high-water line, the drift line of all five beaches always contained plastic particles. Since the drift line accumulate particulate matter on a relatively distinct zone, it will enable a comparable sampling of microplastic particles. The applied sampling approach provided a representative method for quantifying microplastic down to 1 μm on a shore consisting of pebbles and sand. Hence, as first step towards a harmonization of beach sediment sampling we suggest to perform sampling at the drift line, although further methodological improvements are still necessary.

Hannes K. Imhof, Alexandra C.Wiesheu, Philipp M. Anger and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 613–614, 1 February 2018, Pages 530-537

The article

A large-scale investigation of microplastic contamination: Abundance and characteristics of microplastics in European beach sediment

Here we present the large-scale distribution of microplastic contamination in beach sediment across Europe. Sediment samples were collected from 23 locations across 13 countries by citizen scientists, and analysed using a standard operating procedure. We found significant variability in the concentrations of microplastics, ranging from 72 ± 24 to 1512 ± 187 microplastics per kg of dry sediment, with high variability within sampling locations. Three hotspots of microplastic accumulation (> 700 microplastics per kg of dry sediment) were found. There was limited variability in the physico-chemical characteristics of the plastics across sampling locations. The majority of the microplastics were fibrous, < 1 mm in size, and blue/black in colour. In addition, using Raman spectrometry we identified particles as polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene. Our research is the first large spatial-scale analysis of microplastics on European beaches giving insights into the nature and extent of the microplastic challenge.

Froukje A.E. Lots, Paul Behrens, Martina G. Vijver, Alice A. Horton, Thijs Bosker, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 123, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2017, Pages 219-226

The article

Marine litter at the seafloor – Abundance and composition in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea

Litter is present in all marine waters around the globe. It consists of several compound classes of which plastic is of special interest because of its high abundance and possible threat to marine organisms. The regional distribution, composition and abundance of large litter items (LI) at the sea floor of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea were investigated based on 175 bottom trawls between 2013 and 2015. Different types of marine litter > 2.5 cm were classified according to the protocol of the ICES International Bottom Trawl Survey. The results showed considerable geographical variation: In the North Sea, a mean litter abundance of 16.8 LI/km2 was found, whereas the litter abundance in the Baltic Sea was significantly lower (5.07 LI/km2). In general, plastic represented 80% of the litter items. During the study, some methodical aspects with possible impact on the results were identified that need to be addressed in future sampling campaigns.

Ulrike Kammann, Marc-Oliver Aust, Horst Bahl, Thomas Lang, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 12 October 2017, In Press

The article