Screening for microplastics in water samples

Published September 20, 2022

Mirva Hirvi

Mirva Hirvi – MSc, environmental testing

Environmental chemistry, Measurlabs

mirva.hirvi@measurlabs.com

Microplastics are tiny fragments (less than 5 mm in diameter) of plastics that end up in nature from sources like cosmetics, clothing, car tires and industrial processes. There is rising concern about microplastic pollution in lakes, oceans and drinking water, which in turn increases the demand for laboratory analyses that detect microplastics in water samples.

Which analytical methods can be used to identify microplastics?  

The three main methods for detecting and quantifying microplastic concentrations in water are FTIR Spectroscopy, TED-GC-MS analysis and Raman Spectroscopy. FTIR and Raman are used to calculate the number of different microplastics within a sample, whereas TED-GC-MS can detect concentrations of specific types of microplastics in mg/l. Most of these methods can also be used to detect microplastics in sludge and soil samples.

Why perform microplastics testing on water samples?  

Microplastics contribute significantly to the pollution of natural environments, from which they eventually end up in the human body. The concrete effects of microplastics on human health are still largely unknown, but preliminary evidence suggests that high concentrations of microplastics in the body can provoke stress and immune responses1

Testing for microplastics in things like bottled water, groundwater and wastewater is an important way to minimize the negative environmental effects of manufacturing and waste disposal processes. As consumers become more environmentally conscious and wary of the possible health effects that microplastics can cause, screening for them will also get increasingly beneficial from a business perspective. 

Which industries can benefit from the analysis of microplastics in water?

Screening for microplastics can be useful in the shipping industry, as the wastewater that cruise ships and other vessels release to the sea can contain significant amounts of tiny plastic particles. Microplastics tend to pass through conventional filtration systems, which is why their identification from wastewater samples is crucial to the development of more efficient filtration methods. 

Manufacturers of bottled water may also be interested in microplastics testing, which can help to reduce their amount in the end product. The same goes for textile manufacturers, as microplastics that are released from textiles during laundering are another significant source of microplastic pollution. 

In addition to industry needs, microplastic analysis can be utilized in research projects to study the concentrations of microplastics in lakes, seas and oceans. This may interest public officials as well as researchers, as awareness of high microplastic concentrations in specific water areas can help plan efforts to reduce such pollution.  

Where to get the measurements? 

Several types of microplastic analysis can be obtained through Measurlabs. We offer both FTIR analysis and TED-GC-MS analysis to detect microplastic concentrations in different types of water samples. If this is something you are interested in, don’t hesitate to contact our expert Mirva at mirva.hirvi@measurlabs.com. In addition to the measurements themselves, we provide help in choosing the testing methods and samples that are most appropriate to your measuring needs. 

References:

1 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-021-01589-9

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