Assessing the amount, quality, and risk of microplastic contaminants in aquatic ecosystems

In magazine 5 Jan 2017 

We're hearing more from studies about microplastics in our waters and research techniques. This brief article assesses current sampling and techniques. Clearly it's imperative to keep studying and in the meantime we, industry, government need to continue to clean up our act and think more about use and disposal of items that harm us and the ecosystem.

The review describes the currently used analytical methods with their advantages and drawbacks. For example, the reader learns that the visual inspection of the samples (derived from sediment, water surface or bulk) still takes a prominent role although the chance of false (both positive and negative) results is very large. And the lower size limit for optical detection is recommended to be about 500 micrometers, whereas the most interesting—because probably the most harmful—microplastic particles and fibers are in the range down to one micrometer or even nanometers. On the other hand, spectroscopic techniques have been successfully implemented which can unambiguously characterize the quality of the plastic particle down to one micrometer, provided certain analytical requirements are met. The authors propose that these spectroscopic techniques, combined with the emerging thermoanalytical techniques, will provide reliable data in the future, but they need to be continually developed and optimized.

As their most important point, the authors call for a harmonization of methods..."

and concludes

"The authors also discuss the uptake of microplastics and its effects in living species, and they highlight the necessity of enhanced research efforts towards the distribution of plastic additives such as plasticizers, fillers, or flame retardants in the tissue, which are potential health hazards. Thus, the article adds important aspects to the ongoing discussion on microplastic pollution in marine and freshwater biotopes and presents valid solutions for future management."