Are We Underestimating Microplastic Contamination in Aquatic Environments?
- 1.5k Downloads
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.
KeywordsPlastic debris Polyethylene microbeads Aquatic environments Oceans Environmental loading
Student support was provided by the Department of Homeland Security Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (DHS-STEM) Scholars from Universidad del Este-Carolina, Puerto Rico.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
- Beach WJ (1972) Skin Cleaner. United States Patent U.S. Patent #3,645,904,Google Scholar
- Kosuth M, Wattenberg EV, Mason SA, Tyree C, Morrison D (2017) Synthetic polymer contamination in global drinking water. Orb https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics/multimedia
- Leslie HA, Brandsma SH, van Velzen MJM, Vethaak AD (2017) Microplastics en route: Field measurements in the Dutch river delta and Amsterdam canals, wastewater treatment plants, North Sea sediments and biota. Environ Int 101:133–142Google Scholar
- Löder MGJ, Gerdts G (2015) Methodology used for the detection and identification of microplastics—a critical appraisal. In: Bergmann M, Gutow L, Klages M (eds) Marine Anthropogenic Litter. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp 201–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16510-3_8
- Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (2015) vol 114–114Google Scholar
- PlasticsEurope (2016) Plastics - the Facts 2016: an Analysis of European plastics production, demand and waste dataGoogle Scholar
- Ryan PG, Moore CJ, van Franeker JA, Moloney CL (2009) Monitoring the abundance of plastic debris in the marine environment. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 364:1999–2012Google Scholar
- World Economic Forum (2016) The new plastics economy. Rethinking the future of plasticsGoogle Scholar