Optimising the process for microplastic analysis

Microplastic

Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes. Microbeads are one example of microplastics, but they also can deteriorate from larger plastic pieces that have entered the oceans. Recent media stories about microplastics, for instance the vast patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean (external link) , have raised the profile of these particles. While the impact on the marine environment may be garnering the most attention at the moment, microplastics are found to be polluting a range of different ecosystems worldwide.

There is a growing concern that this form of contamination poses a serious threat to human health. Ingestion via contaminated seafood is one significant concern, however microplastics have also recently been shown to be present in drinking water. There is therefore a growing need to understand the sources, and routes of microplastic contamination, environmental levels, the uptake rate by different species, and the impacts they have on both the animals, their ecosystems, as well as the potential risks to human health.

Plastic microbead isolated from imported clams bought in New Zealand

Plastic microbead (arrow) isolated from imported clams bought in New Zealand.

Due to the extensive use of plastics in our day-to-day lives, it is difficult to accurately measure the extent of microplastic pollution due to the cross-contamination of samples. ESR has therefore teamed up with the University of Canterbury to modify testing methods so that the characterisation and quantification of microplastics contamination in our environment is optimised. This involves ESR’s forensic specialists, who typically analyse physical evidence from crime scenes, applying their expertise to develop appropriate modifications to ensure that best practice is adopted.

To find out more about this work, contact Olga Pantos.