Microplastics in agricultural soils from a semi-arid region and their transport by wind erosion

Rezaei, Mahrooz; Abbasi, Sajjad; Pourmahmood, Haniye; Oleszczuk, Patryk; Ritsema, Coen; Turner, Andrew


Despite the importance of agricultural soils, little is known about the fate of microplastics (MPs) in this environment. In the present study, MPs have been determined in soils and wind-eroded sediments from two vegetable-growing fields in the Fars province of Iran, one using plastic mulch for water retention (Field 1) and the other using wastewater for irrigation (Field 2). MPs were heterogeneously distributed in the surface (0–5 cm) and subsurface (5–15 cm) soils of both fields, with a maximum concentration overall of about 1.1 MP g−1 and no significant differences in concentrations between either fields or depths. Fibres represented the principal shape of MPs, but spherules, presumably from wastewater, also made a significant (∼25%) contribution to MPs in Field 2. Analysis of selected samples by Raman spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy revealed that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and nylon were the most abundant polymers and that MPs exhibited varying degrees of weathering. Concentrations of MPs in this study are within the range reported previously for agricultural soils, although the absence of PET observed in earlier studies is attributed to the use of insufficiently dense solutions to isolate plastics. Deployment of a portable wind tunnel revealed threshold wind velocities for soil erosion of up to 7 and 12 m s−1 and MP erosion rates up to about 0.4 and 1.1 MP m−2 s−1 for Fields 1 and 2, respectively. Erosion rates are considerably greater than published depositional rates for MPs and suggest that agricultural soils act as both a temporary sink and dynamic secondary source of MPs that should be considered in risk assessments and global transport budgets.