Investigation of the role of microplastics in the transport of potentially toxic element species in the marine environment

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

There is growing global concern about the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, with evidence emerging that plastic pellets can be a vector for potentially toxic elements (PTE). In this thesis, PTE content was first investigated in petroleum based (polyethylene, polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate) and bio-based (poly(hydroxybutyrate-co-hydroxyvalerate)) virgin plastic pellets. Various elements associated with plastics'™ manufacture were detected.Next, sorption experiments were conducted to assess the capacity of virgin and laboratory-weathered pellets to take up As, Cd, Cr and Pb from controlled media of deionised, fresh and artificial seawater, with analysis by ICP-MS (Agilent 7700x instrument). All types of plastics showed the ability to take up the PTE studied and the total amounts were in the order Pb > As > Cd > Cr when single element solutions were studied and Pb > Cd > Cr > As from a multi-element solution.It was found that weathered pellets took up greater amounts of PTE than virgin ones. The surface of virgin, laboratory-weathered and beached pellets collected from Kuwait and Scotland were then imaged and their chemical composition determined using a scanning electron microscope with energy-dispersive EDS analyser (JEOL JSM-6010LA). Analysis revealed changes in pellet morphology following weathering.Elements detected were associated with aspects of plastic production or taken up from the ambient environment. Beached pellets were identified by ATR-€“FTIR as predominantly polyethylene and polypropylene. When examples were subjected to sequential cold acid digestion followed by microwave extraction, larger amount of PTE were released by the cold digestion step, indicating the analytes were relatively weakly bound.Samples from Kuwait released higher amounts of PTE than samples from Scotland. In vitro bioaccessibility of PTE to simulated fish stomach was estimated using two methods, a modified SBET and a 0.1 M HCl extraction. Lead was found to be the most bioaccessible of the PTE studied.
Date of Award1 Oct 2016
LanguageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorChristine Davidson (Supervisor) & Christine Switzer (Supervisor)

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