An exploratory ecotoxicity study of primary microplastics versus aged in natural waters and wastewaters

Jemec Kokalj A, Kuehnel D, Puntar B, Gotvajn AŽ, Kalčikova G
[ site ] Environmental Pollution, 2019

Current understanding of how environmental aging of microplastics contributes to their ecotoxicity is low. We investigated whether incubation of microplastics in waters with different organic load and toxic potential alters the toxicity of microplastics to crustacean Daphnia magna, fish embryos Danio rerio and plant Lemna minor. Polyethylene primary microplastics; specifically microbeads from facial scrub; were subjected to 3-weeks incubation in low affected spring water, river water, effluent from the municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) and municipal landfill leachate. Primary microplastics had no acute effect on D. magna mobility and D. rerio embryos development. While high organic load wastewaters; WWTP effluent and landfill leachate; showed evident toxicity for D. magna and D. rerio embryos, microplastics aged in these wastewaters had no effect. This suggests that adsorption of pollutants from wastewaters to microplastic particles was not high enough to induce acute toxicity to D. magna and D. rerio. On the contrary, primary microplastics affected the root growth of L. minor. Interestingly, aging of microplastics in low organic-load waters mitigated the toxicity of microplastics for L. minor, while microplastics aged in high-organic load waters had the same adverse effect as primary microplastics. Partly, these effects can be explained by different extent of coating on microplastics in different water samples. This study suggests that aging of microplastics in wastewaters and natural waters did not significantly enhance the toxicity to selected test species, but further studies on plants may be of interest.