Sorption behavior of real microplastics (MPs): Insights for organic micropollutants adsorption on a large set of well-characterized MPs

By Mohamed Ateia, Ting Zheng, Stefania Calace, Nishanth Tharayil, Srikanth Pilla, and Tanju Karanfil
Science of the Tot. Env.
March 17, 2020
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137634

Microplastics (MPs) have been recognized as transport vectors for micropollutants in the natural water environment and the food web; therefore, the sorption behavior of contaminant on MPs has recently gained an increased attention. However, a consensus has not yet been reached and information about the adsorption of water contaminants on real MPs remains elusive. Herein, we raise the question of “Should we continue using pure polymers as surrogates for real MPs?” This first systematic study compared the adsorption of multiple micropollutants (i.e. a pesticide, a pharmaceutical, and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)) on a large set of MPs (i.e. 20 well-characterized MPs) and kaolin. Material characterizations results showed various physicochemical and compositional differences between real and pure MPs. Pure polymers had lower normalized uptake values than real MPs in most cases. This was attributed to the surface roughness and/or the presence of fillers (e.g. talc and glass fiber) in real samples. Further, preloaded MPs with natural organic matter (NOM) showed an increased uptake of micropollutants due to forming a complex with NOM and/or co-sorption. These findings indicate that employing real MPs in research studies is critical for obtaining environmentally meaningful results, and the evaluation of MPs sorption behavior without NOM preloading can result in a significant underestimation for their actual values. We also provided an outlook the key areas for further investigations.

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