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Issue 7, 2018
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Closing the gap between small and smaller: towards a framework to analyse nano- and microplastics in aqueous environmental samples

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Abstract

Measuring concentrations and sizes of micro- and nanoplastics in the environment is essential to assess the risks plastic particles could pose. Microplastics have been detected globally in a variety of aquatic ecosystems. The determination of nanoplastics, however, is lagging behind due to higher methodological challenges. Here, we propose a framework that can consistently determine a broad spectrum of plastic particle sizes in aquatic environmental samples. Analytical evidence is provided as proof of principle. FTIR microscopy is applied to detect microplastics. Nanoplastics are studied using field-flow-fractionation and pyrolysis GC-MS that gives information on the particle sizes and polymer types. Pyrolysis GC-MS is shown to be promising for the detection of nanoplastics in environmental samples as a mass of approximately 100 ng is required to identify polystyrene. Pre-concentrating nanoplastics by crossflow ultrafiltration enables polystyrene to be identified when the original concentration in an aqueous sample is >20 μg L−1. Finally, we present an approach to estimate polymer masses based on the two-dimensional microplastic shapes recorded during the analysis with FTIR microscopy. Our suite of techniques demonstrates that analysis of the entire size spectrum of plastic debris is feasible.

Graphical abstract: Closing the gap between small and smaller: towards a framework to analyse nano- and microplastics in aqueous environmental samples

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Supplementary files

Article information


Submitted
12 Feb 2018
Accepted
28 May 2018
First published
28 May 2018

Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2018,5, 1640-1649
Article type
Paper

Closing the gap between small and smaller: towards a framework to analyse nano- and microplastics in aqueous environmental samples

S. M. Mintenig, P. S. Bäuerlein, A. A. Koelmans, S. C. Dekker and A. P. van Wezel, Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2018, 5, 1640 DOI: 10.1039/C8EN00186C

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