New Publication in Microplastics and Nanoplastics: Microplastic extraction protocols can impact the polymer structure


Microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment. Indications of the resulting risks to nature and health are numerous. Therefore, questions arise as to the form and extent to which microplastics are present in the environment. A study involving Thilo Hofmann shows which methods of analysis may provide reliable answers to this question. The researchers have examined whether and how common methods for extracting the small plastic particles from environmental samples can alter these polymers and thus distort statements about their form and quantity in the environment.

Before they might be measured and analyzed, microplastics first have to be extracted from the mixtures of e.g. sludge, minerals, organic material, and the like, in which they are to be found in the environment. The chemicals used to extract the plastic particles may lead to degradation, fragmentation and/or dissolution of the particles. With colleagues from TU Munich and BASF SE in Ludwigshafen, CMESS researcher Thilo Hofmann has investigated whether this is the case with two common protocols - the acidic (Fenton) protocol and a new alkaline (Basic Piranha) protocol. The validity of the protocols also depends on the type and nature of the polymers. The process is particularly challenging for complex materials that do not consist of pure polymers but also contain various additives and nanomaterials. One example of this is tire rubber particles, which today are widespread in the environment. Surprisingly, the researchers' analysis shows that the two common protocols affected the tire rubber particles, which raises concerns about the validity of previous monitoring studies. Overall, the study authors elaborate on which extraction protocols might be used for valid analyses. In addition, they advocate strict controls of such analyses with regard to the polymer types and the exact sample preparation procedures when aiming at a targeted environmental monitoring.