Macro and Micro Plastics Sorb and Desorb Metals and Act As A Point Source of Trace Metals To Coastal Ecosystems

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Munier B, Bendell LI (2018) Macro and micro plastics sorb and desorb metals and act as a point source of trace metals to coastal ecosystems. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0191759. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191759

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Nine urban intertidal regions in Burrard Inlet, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, were sampled for plastic debris. Debris included macro and micro plastics and originated from a wide diversity of uses ranging from personal hygiene to solar cells. Debris was characterized for its polymer through standard physiochemical characteristics, then subject to a weak acid extraction to remove the metals, zinc, copper, cadmium and lead from the polymer. Recently manufactured low density polyethylene (LDPE), nylon, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) were subject to the same extraction. Data was statistically analyzed by appropriate parametric and non-parametric tests when needed with significance set at P < 0.05. Polymers identified in field samples in order of abundance were; PVC (39), LDPE (28), PS (18), polyethylene (PE, 9), PP (8), nylon (8), high density polyethylene (HDPE, 7), polycarbonate (PC, 6), PET (6), polyurethane (PUR, 3) and polyoxymethylene (POM, 2). PVC and LDPE accounted for 46% of all samples. Field samples of PVC, HDPE and LDPE had significantly greater amounts of acid extracted copper and HDPE, LDPE and PUR significantly greater amounts of acid extracted zinc. PVC and LDPE had significantly greater amounts of acid extracted cadmium and PVC tended to have greater levels of acid extracted lead, significantly so for HDPE. Five of the collected items demonstrated extreme levels of acid extracted metal; greatest concentrations were 188, 6667, 698,000 and 930 μgg-1 of copper, zinc, lead and cadmium respectively recovered from an unidentified object comprised of PVC. Comparison of recently manufactured versus field samples indicated that recently manufactured samples had significantly greater amounts of acid extracted cadmium and zinc and field samples significantly greater amounts of acid extracted copper and lead which was primarily attributed to metal extracted from field samples of PVC. Plastic debris will affect metals within coastal ecosystems by; 1) providing a sorption site (copper and lead), notably for PVC 2) desorption from the plastic i.e., the “inherent” load (cadmium and zinc) and 3) serving as a point source of acute trace metal exposure to coastal ecosystems. All three mechanisms will put coastal ecosystems at risk to the toxic effects of these metals.

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Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)