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Using Analytical Chemistry to Understand the Problem of Microplastics in the Ocean

By: , Posted on: June 7, 2017

Microplastics are plastic particles with less than 5 mm in size and physico-chemical properties (e.g., overall size, density, color and chemical composition) that are key contributors to the enhancement of their bioavailability to organisms.

Mainly due to their small size, microplastics have the potential of being ingested by benthic and planktonic organisms, thus entering marine food webs with a very low potential of biodegradation. Therefore, a detailed qualitative and quantitative monitoring of microplastics in the marine environment is urgently required and in fact it is already recommended within the framework of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Due to the methodology currently used, the scarce data on microplastics concentrations is mostly biased towards larger particles. Differences observed in different studies in terms of concentration and composition by predominant types of microplastics could also be due to significant methodological differences. Comparison of the quantitative results obtained by published works would be very interesting and of utmost importance, but still is a very hard or even impossible task to perform. Therefore, reliable data on concentrations of microplastics in marine systems and other areasis still lacking.

Analytical chemistry has a wealth of tools that can be applied to understand the scale of this serious problem within the marine environment. These include infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy for characterization of microplastics, the application of scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy on the identification and characterization of microplastics and also on the characterization of inorganic additives in microplastics fragments. It is also possible to use pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry for analysis and identification of degradation products of commercially available synthetic polymers/copolymers and their additives, and subsequent application on microplastics characterization. Finally use of advanced analytical techniques such as gas chromatography high resolution mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry are used for assessing the contaminants related to microplastics.

comprehensive analytical chemistry

The handbook series Comprehensive Analytical Chemistry, has recently published a volume on this hot topic covering all of these techniques in detail. Characterization and Analysis of Microplastics, Volume 75 is a comprehensive review of the latest advances in this area and is available via Science Direct now.

Chapter Download: Microplastics – Occurrence, Fate and Behaviour in the Environment

Visit to access content on analytical chemistry and more! Use discount code STC317 at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy!

About the Series Volume Editors

teresa rocha-santosDr. Teresa Rocha-Santos graduated in Analytical Chemistry (1996) and obtained a PhD in Chemistry (2000), both at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. In 2001 she was awarded with a prize for her PhD studies in the area of urban environment. Currently, she is a Principal Researcher at Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM) at University of Aveiro. Her research concentrates on the development of new analytical methodologies fit for purpose. She published more than 110 peer-reviewed publications based on her research. Her work has been published, among others, in Trends in Analytical Chemistry, Science of the Total Environment, Journal of Hazardous Materials, and Talanta.

armando c duarteProf. Armando C. Duarte graduated in Chemical Engineering (1977) at the University of Oporto (Portugal) and obtained a PhD in Public Health Engineering (1981) at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (United Kingdom). In 2006, The Portuguese Science Foundation ( awarded him a prize for Scientific Excellence and in 2013 he became a Member of the FCT Scientific Council for Natural and Environmental Sciences. He is a Professor of Environmental & Analytical Chemistry at the University of Aveiro (Portugal) since 1995, leader of a research group on the same subject, lecturer on Anaytical Quality Control subjects, and either supervising or co-supervising many PhD students, some of whom became members of staff, both as lecturers and researchers. His highly-interdisciplinary research spans areas of comprehensive environmental and analytical chemistry, qualimetrics and analytical quality assurance, but also includes the assessment of the relevance of new concepts and integration of different ideas into widely accepted frameworks, especially when applied to sustainability. He co-authored more than 450 peer-reviewed publications leading to an h-factor of 38.

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