Project

Impacts of plastic-associated chemicals

Goal: To identify the chemical impacts of microplastics as carriers of chemicals in the environment and in the gut of organisms.

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Project log

Albert Koelmans
added a research item
Microplastic particles are ubiquitous in the environment, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. The key question with respect to these particles is to what extent they cause risks for the environment and human health. There is no risk assessment framework that takes into account the multidimensionality of microplastic particles against the background of numerous natural particles, which together encompass an infinite combination of sizes, shapes, densities and chemical signatures. We review the current tenets in defining microplastic characteristics and effects, emphasizing advances in the analysis of the diversity of microplastic particles. We summarize the unique characteristics of microplastic compared with those of other environmental particles, the main mechanisms of microplastic particle effects and the relevant dose metrics for these effects. To characterize risks consistently, we propose how exposure and effect thresholds can be aligned and quantified using probability density functions describing microplastic particle diversity. Microplastic is a complex contaminant causing great concern in society. This Review examines the properties of microplastic particles compared with natural particles in the environment and discusses methods of assessing the risks to humans and the environment.
Albert Koelmans
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The concern that in nature, ingestion of microplastic (MP) increases exposure of organisms to plastic-associated chemicals (the 'MP vector effect') plays an important role in the current picture of the risks of microplastic for the environment and human health. An increasing number of studies on this topic have been conducted using a wide variety of approaches and techniques. At present, the MP vector effect is usually framed as 'complex', 'under debate' or 'controversial'. Studies that critically discuss the approaches and techniques used to study the MP vector effect, and that provide suggestions for the harmonization needed to advance this debate, are scarce. Furthermore, only a few studies have strived at interpreting study outcomes in the light of environmentally relevant conditions. This constitutes a major research gap, because these are the conditions that are most relevant when informing risk assessment and management decisions. Based on a review of 61 publications, we propose evaluation criteria and guidance for MP vector studies and discuss current study designs using these criteria. The criteria are designed such that studies, which fulfil them, will be relevant to inform risk assessment. By critically reviewing the existing literature in the light of these criteria, a weight of evidence assessment is provided. We demonstrate that several studies did not meet the standards for their conclusions on the MP vector effect to stand, whereas others provided overwhelming evidence that the vector effect is unlikely to affect chemical risks under present natural conditions.
Albert Koelmans
added a research item
Tire wear represents a large source of microplastic entering the aquatic environment, however little is known about its environmental risks. Here, we provide the first assessment of the environmental risks of pollution with tire wear microplastic particles (TWP) and associated organic micropollutants present in road runoff in Europe, in one go. Besides microplastic TWP, the assessment focused on priority substances as defined by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). In addition, several other pollutants (mercaptobenzothiazole, tolyltriazole, diisodecyl phthalate and hexa (methoxymethyl)melamine) were included. The risk assessment comprised a hazard identification (selection of traffic related substances), an assessment of exposure (Predicted Environmental Concentrations, PECs), based on estimated and measured values, effect assessment (selection of Predicted No Effect Concentrations, PNECs, and effect values) and a risk characterization (PEC/PNEC and Species Sensitivity Distributions (SSDs)). Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET)-tests on samples taken from road runoff, surface water and sediment were conducted as a retrospective approach to support the risk assessment. We demonstrate that risks exist for TWP and for several TWP-associated chemical substances in surface water and sediment. In addition, WET-tests of the runoff samples showed significant dose-related effects for algae. However, WET-tests of surface water showed no significant toxic effects. The present study provides opportunities to protect the quality of European waters from complex road runoff pollution, focusing on TWP microplastic, their associated WFD priority substances and other hazardous substances.
Albert Koelmans
added a research item
Human exposure to microplastic is recognized as a global problem, but the uncertainty, variability, and lifetime accumulation are unresolved. We provide a probabilistic lifetime exposure model for children and adults, which accounts for intake via eight food types and inhalation, intestinal absorption, biliary excretion, and plastic-associated chemical exposure via a physiologically based pharmacokinetic submodel. The model probabilistically simulates microplastic concentrations in the gut, body tissue, and stool, the latter allowing validation against empirical data. Rescaling methods were used to ensure comparability between microplastic abundance data. Microplastic (1-5000 μm) median intake rates are 553 particles/capita/day (184 ng/capita/day) and 883 particles/capita/day (583 ng/capita/day) for children and adults, respectively. This intake can irreversibly accumulate to 8.32 × 103 (90% CI, 7.08 × 102-1.91 × 106) particles/capita or 6.4 (90% CI, 0.1-2.31 × 103) ng/capita for children until age 18, and up to 5.01 × 104 (90% CI, 5.25 × 103-9.33 × 106) particles/capita or 40.7 (90% CI, 0.8-9.85 × 103) ng/capita for adults until age 70 in the body tissue for 1-10 μm particles. Simulated microplastic concentrations in stool agree with empirical data. Chemical absorption from food and ingested microplastic of the nine intake media based on biphasic, reversible, and size-specific sorption kinetics, reveals that the contribution of microplastics to total chemical intake is small. The as-yet-unknown contributions of other food types are discussed in light of future research needs.
Albert Koelmans
added a research item
A tube-feeding model for administering microplastic (MP, Ø = 30 μm) spheres to fish larvae was employed to quantify the uptake of hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) into the larval body through a single administration of MP. Polychlorinated biphenyl-153 (PCB-153) was used as a representative HOC that can be sorbed to MP in the sea. Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) larvae (34–51 days post-hatching) were selected as the animal model. The herring larvae were tube-fed a single load of up to 200 polystyrene or polyethylene MP spheres spiked with ¹⁴C-labelled PCB-153, and the control larvae were tube-fed an isotonic solution without MP. At the time of sampling (24 h post feeding), some larvae had evacuated all MP spheres from the gut, while others still had MP remaining in the gut. In larvae with a significant number of MP spheres still present in the gut, whole-body scintillation counting (including the MP in the gut lumen) showed elevated levels of the tracer compared to those in the control fish larvae. For larvae in which all or almost all MP had been evacuated by the time of sampling, the tracer levels of the whole body were not significantly different compared to those for the control fish larvae. These data indicate that there was no significant transfer of PCB-153 from contaminated MP into fish larvae within a gut-transit time of <24 h. This study suggests that the vector role of MP in HOC uptake and absorption may be minor compared to that of other HOC uptake pathways.
Albert Koelmans
added 13 research items
It has been speculated that marine microplastics may cause negative effects on benthic marine organisms and increase bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Here, we provide the first controlled study of plastic effects on benthic organisms including transfer of POPs. The effects of polystyrene (PS) microplastic on survival, activity, and bodyweight as well as the transfer of 19 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were assessed in bioassays with Arenicola marina (L.). PS was pre-equilibrated in natively contaminated sediment. A positive relation was observed between microplastic concentration in the sediment and both uptake of plastic particles and weight loss by A. marina. Furthermore, a reduction in feeding activity was observed at a PS dose of 7.4% dry weight (DW). A low PS dose of 0.074% increased bioaccumulation of PCBs by a factor 1.1 - 3.6, an effect that was significant for ΣPCBs and several individual congeners. At higher doses, bioaccumulation decreased compared to the low dose, which however, was only significant for PCB105. PS has statistically significant effects on the organisms' fitness and bioaccumulation, but the magnitude of the effects was not high. This may be different for sites with different plastic concentrations, or plastics with a higher affinity for POPs.
It is often assumed that ingestion of microplastics by aquatic species leads to increased exposure to plastic additives. However, experimental data or model based evidence is lacking. Here we assess the potential of leaching of nonylphenol (NP) and bisphenol A (BPA) in the intestinal tracts of Arenicola marina (lugworm) and Gadus morhua (North Sea cod). We use a biodynamic model that allows calculations of the relative contribution of plastic ingestion to total exposure of aquatic species to chemicals residing in the ingested plastic. Uncertainty in the most crucial parameters is accounted for by probabilistic modeling. Our conservative analysis shows that plastic ingestion by the lugworm yields NP and BPA concentrations that stay below the lower ends of global NP and BPA concentration ranges, and therefore are not likely to constitute a relevant exposure pathway. For cod, plastic ingestion appears to be a negligible pathway for exposure to NP and BPA.
The presence of microplastic and carbon-based nanoparticles in the environment may have implications for the fate and effects of traditional hydrophobic chemicals. Here we present parameters for the sorption of 17 CB congeners to 10-180 µm sized polyethylene (micro-PE), 70 nm polystyrene (nano-PS), multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT), fullerene (C60) and a natural sediment, in the environmentally relevant 10-5 to 10-1 μg L-1 concentration range. Effects of salinity and sediment organic matter fouling were assessed by measuring the isotherms in fresh- and seawater, with and without sediment present. Sorption to the 'bulk' sorbents sediment organic matter (OM) and micro-PE occurred through linear hydrophobic partitioning with OM and micro-PE having similar sorption affinity. Sorption to MWCNT and nano-PS was non-linear. PCB sorption to MWCNT and C60 was 3 to 4 orders of magnitude stronger than to OM and micro-PE. Sorption to nano-PS was 1 to 2 orders of magnitude stronger than to micro-PE, which was attributed to the higher aromaticity and surface-volume ratio of nano-PS. Organic matter effects varied among sorbents, with the largest OM fouling effect observed for the high surface sorbents MWCNT and nano-PS. Salinity decreased sorption for sediment and MWCNT, but increased sorption for the polymers nano-PS and micro-PE. The exceptionally strong sorption of (planar) PCBs to C60, MWCNT and nano-PS may imply increased hazards upon membrane transfer of these particles.
Nur Hazimah
added a research item
The role of plastic as a vector for bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals is central to the risk assessment of microplastic for human health and the environment. However, transfer kinetics of sorbed contaminants from ingested microplastics are poorly understood. We develop and parameterise a chemical exchange model on microplastics in a gut fluid mimic of aquatic biota, and also included food to provide a better representation of contaminant dynamics when plastic and food are ingested, as would occur in nature. The transfer kinetics of 14 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were measured in gut fluid mimic systems under three environmentally relevant exposure scenarios of plastic ingestion by organisms, for low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and were evaluated with the model. Chemical transfer was demonstrated to be biphasic and fully reversible, with fast exchange within hours followed by a slow transfer lasting for weeks to months. In clean gut systems, the bioavailability of plastic-associated PCBs for lugworms and cod ranged from 14-42% and 45-83% respectively. However, in contaminated gut systems, clean microplastic was capable of rapidly extracting (‘cleaning’) PCBs from food inside the gut, thus demonstrating that the effect of microplastic is context dependent. Therefore, chemical contamination and cleaning are likely to occur simultaneously due to the ingestion of microplastic.
Nur Hazimah
added a project goal
To identify the chemical impacts of microplastics as carriers of chemicals in the environment and in the gut of organisms.