Dispersal protocols in microplastics toxicity studies

, Reilly Katie, Sadler Jon, Lynch Iseult.

With increasing awareness of microplastics in the environment there has also been an increase in laboratory studies to further our mechanistic understanding of the potential toxicity issues that may arise as a result of microplastic exposure. Artificially dispersed microbeads that have previously been used in toxicity studies have recently been shown to have detrimental impacts on the health of the test species and affect the outcome of the test methods due to the surfactants used to disperse the particles. However, if dispersants are not used the hydrophobicity of the plastic surfaces means that they agglomerate and remain at the air-water interface of the solution so no exposure of test organisms in the water column occurs. Taking these factors into consideration, how is it feasible to disperse hydrophobic particles more naturally so that the dispersions are representative of the study environment, with the aim to replicate to the best of our current capabilities the interactions between plastics and test species that could be occurring in the environment? In this study, we used methods currently widely used for nanomaterials research by modifying the testing medium that we used to contain varying amounts on natural organic matter to aid the dispersal of the plastics beads into the testing medium for toxicity assays. Using a range of dispersal methods, including the manufacturers' recommended use of the surfactant TWEEN, we compared the potential for the particles to agglomerate during the testing duration using a combination of methods including Disc Centrifuge Sedimentation (DCS) and Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS) along with TEM imaging. This was supported with acute toxicity assessments with Daphnia magna to determine if a more natural method of dispersal is suitable and adequate when compared to the manufacturers recommended dispersal protocol with surfactants such as TWEEN.

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