Airborne microplastic deposition across the Weser river basin

, Kernchen Sarmite, Held Andreas, Löder Martin G. J., Laforsch Christian.

Contrary to the well-studied microplastic (MP) contamination in aquatic and terrestrial systems, the atmosphere has gained much less attention. Previous studies focused on MP in atmospheric samples and have found measurable amounts of synthetic polymers in bulk deposition, snow, settled dust and in air. So far, exposure to airborne MP by inhalation has been linked with respiratory system diseases and lung cancer, although comprehensive studies on human health and risks are urgently needed. To better understand the health effects of airborne MPs, much more research in-depth is required regarding the levels of contamination in air, the role of atmospheric transport and deposition, and the physics and chemistry of those pollutants. This work aims at assessing MP deposition rates across the German River Weser basin, which connects urban, agricultural and rural areas with the North Sea. Total atmospheric deposition was sampled monthly from March to September/October (2018) at four sites (Wasserkuppe, Kassel, Bremen and Bremerhaven) and twice at two sites (Rinteln, Solling) in March and in September, while site Kassel was sampled monthly over one year from April 2019 to April 2020 for wet-only and dry-only atmospheric deposition. Samples were treated following a novel purification protocol based on oxidative-enzymatic digestion in order to remove organic and inorganic residues. The isolated MP fraction was analyzed with FTIR microscopy which provides polymer specific information about the particle count, size distribution and particle shape. All sampled sites contained measurable amounts of MPs with deposition rates ranging from 10 to 367 particles/m2/day (99±84, mean±SD). Airborne MP deposition rates were higher in urban (Bremerhaven, Bremen, Kassel) than in rural areas (Wasserkuppe, Solling, Rinteln) and have seemingly no seasonal characteristics. In the studied particle diameter range (¿ 11 µm), PP, PE and PET are the predominant plastic types in air in Middle and North-West Germany.

View online