Persistent organic pollutants associated with microplastics in the environment

Plastic pollution has been documented in nearly every environmental compartment. Although its occurrence is widespread, it is still unclear how its presence relates to ecosystem impact and human health. Plastics, as well as microplastics, are known to concentrate pollutants from their surrounding environment and are known to contain high concentrations of additives. Therefore, efforts taken to study the impacts of plastic pollution need to take in account not only plastics, but also other chemicals and materials that associate with them in our environment. 

To investigate these issues, a field experiment was performed by exposing three common microplastic types to a freshwater environment (Muskegon Lake, Michigan, USA). The materials were then retrieved and analyzed for a suite of persistent organic pollutants (POP). Target POP included polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), organochlorinated pesticides (OC), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Results showed that adsorption of POP was highly dependent on polymer type and location of the deployment frame in the water column. Even at a relatively short exposure duration (1-month) specific POP were found to concentrate on these plastics 380 times their surrounding background levels.