A novel method for assessing microplastic effect in suspension through mixing test and reference materials

Gerdes, Zandra; Hermann, Markus; Ogonowski, Martin; Gorokohva, Elena


The occurrence of microplastic in the environment is of global concern. However, the microplastic hazard assessment is hampered by a lack of adequate ecotoxicological methods because of conceptual and practical problems with particle exposure. In the environment, suspended solids (e.g., clay and cellulose) in the same size range as microplastic, are ubiquitous. Therefore, it must be established whether the addition of microplastic to these background levels of particulate material represents a hazard. We present a novel approach employing a serial dilution of microplastic and reference particles, in mixtures, which allows disentangling the effect of the microplastic from that of the other particulates. We demonstrate the applicability of the method using an immobilization test with Daphnia magna exposed to polyethylene terephthalate (test microplastic; median particle diameter ~5 µm) and kaolin clay (reference material; ~3 µm). In the range of the suspended solids test concentrations (0–10 000 mg L−1), with microplastic contributing 0–100% of total mass, the LC50 values for the plastic mixtures were significantly lower compared to the kaolin exposure. Hence, the exposure to polyethylene terephthalate was more harmful to the daphnids than to the reference material alone. The estimated threshold for the relative contribution of the test microplastic to suspended matter above which significantly higher mortality was observed was 2.4% at 32 mg of the solids L−1. This approach has a potential for standardization of ecotoxicological testing of particulates, including microplastic.