Analytical Tools to Map the Extent of Microplastic Pollution

Tackling environmental problems means the need for high-quality, extensive datasets that can accurately capture the extent of an environmental problem, how it evolves, and what factors influence the issue. High-quality environmental monitoring data is also essential for seeing whether preventative or legislative actions to rectify a problem have been effective.

Analytical Tools to Map the Extent of Microplastic Pollution

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Environmental monitoring is a highly diverse area that covers detecting and quantifying many different chemical species. The range of issues that environmental monitoring needs to address, including various sample types, concentrations and sample environments, means a broad suite of analytical tools is needed, often in combination with each other.1

Microplastics are an increasing research interest. Plastic pollution is a huge global problem, with ever-increasing amounts going to landfill. Microplastics - plastic particles between 1-5000 µm in size – originate from larger plastic pieces that have undergone physical or chemical abrasion.

With global plastic waste still rising, increasing microplastic pollution is no surprise. Determining the extent of microplastic pollution in the oceans, as well as efforts to uncover how globally widespread plastic pollution is and its accumulation in both the animal and human food chain, have led to growing concerns about the potential health and environmental impacts microplastics could have.2,3

Part of the challenge for environmental monitoring is to provide good quality and sufficient extensive data on microplastic coverage and behavior to ensure effective policy and legislative changes can be made. This requires the use of new-generation analytical tools and analysis approaches to understand the formation, degradation and reaction processes that microplastics can undergo.

Pittcon will be presenting several sessions dedicated to environmental monitoring, focusing on the complexity and interdisciplinary nature of the challenges facing analytical chemistry.

Pittcon is a long-established multidisciplinary event that brings together elements of trade shows with talks from a variety of experts in industry and research. This year, Pittcon will host researchers who have developed new methods for tackling microplastic problems and industry experts, such as Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, which provides next-generation instrumentation to support measurement science.

At this year’s Pittcon, environmental monitoring, particularly for microplastics, will be one of the main tracks. It will focus on how instrumentation and analytical methodological developments can help tackle this emerging issue. Pittcon will also be hosting an educational course on the Analysis of Microplastics in Water as an excellent training opportunity for analytical scientists who wish to know the latest developments in tackling plastic pollution.

Keynote Talks

Some main analytical tools for macroplastic and microplastic analysis include infrared and Raman spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and hyphenated approaches, including GC-MS and ICP-MS for quantitative analysis.4

Key analysis parameters for microplastics include their size, chemical composition, and morphology. Particle size and morphology are significant for determining where the microplastic can reach in a biological organism and how it will interact and bind with surfaces.5

Microscopy methods are the most commonly used for size and shape profiling microplastics, whereas spectroscopies, such as infrared and Raman, are well-suited to providing chemical information on the composition of the microplastic. However, these are challenging systems to study with analytical approaches due to the chemical complexity of the plastic species and the slow nature of microscopy measurements.6

A recent advancement by Dr. Kazumi Kawahara, Dr. Lauren Ostopowicz, Dr. Ruth Marfil-Vega, and Dr. Gilbert Vial is the development of a novel microscopy technique for the analysis of microplastics. To reduce acquisition times and improve confidence in particle identification, they have created a microscopy method that combines infrared and Raman analysis with AIRsight. Rather than needing two separate instruments and separate scans to record the complementary Raman and infrared data, this can now be performed in a single instrument.

Check out the Pittcon schedule to learn more about this recent work and find out where and when you can see other researcher talks about breakthroughs in the field.

Another key session in the conference will be hosted by Dr. Vasanthi Sivaprakasam, which will discuss the wider aspects of environmental monitoring. Researchers, including Dr. Siyaprakasam herself, will also look at some of the areas that need to be addressed in current environmental monitoring work and what new tools there are to address these.

As an expert in aerosol science, she will be discussing how techniques, such as surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy, can be used for analytical monitoring to provide high-quality reliable data to inform policy change. Dr. Wench Aas will join her at the Norwegian Institution for Air Research, Dr. Jonathan Patz at the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Akua Asa-Awuku at the University of Maryland to take a truly interdisciplinary approach to look at how the current challenges in environmental monitoring can be addressed.

The spread of microplastics in many environments, from water sources to solid ices, is driving the development of several analytical methods to analyze such particles in situ. More sophisticated microscopy methods are a critical approach for particle sizing and shaping, but there is also a drive to find methods that can be used to make robust measurements in situ.

Pittcon provides educational opportunities and a chance to inspect and see the latest scientific equipment to help researchers solve these problems more quickly.

Highly interdisciplinary research, such as microplastic detection, often needs a mixture of skills from industry and academic laboratories, and Pittcon offers access to a full breadth of scientific knowledge.

Pittcon offers a unique opportunity to engage with industrial and scientific experts. To find out more information on how you can register and find out what other sessions will be running, the homepage can be found here. Information on the conference schedule and details of all speakers can be seen in the Technical Program.

References and Further Reading

  1. Daverey, A., Dutta, K., & Sarkar, A. (2019). An overview of analytical methodologies for environmental monitoring. In Tools, Techniques and Protocols for Monitoring Environmental Contaminants. Elsevier Inc.
  2. Hale, R. C., Seeley, M. E., La Guardia, M. J., Mai, L., & Zeng, E. Y. (2020). A Global Perspective on Microplastics. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 125(1), pp. 1–40.
  3. Leslie, H. A., Velzen, M. J. M. Van, Brandsma, S. H., Vethaak, A. D., Garcia-vallejo, J., & Lamoree, M. H. (2022). Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood. Environment International, 163, p. 107199.
  4. PNNL (2022) Sampling and Analysis Methods. Available at:, Accessed on February 2023
  5. Araujo, C. F., Nolasco, M. M., Ribeiro, A. M. P., & Ribeiro-Claro, P. J. A. (2018). Identification of microplastics using Raman spectroscopy: Latest developments and future prospects. Water Research, 142, pp. 426–440.
  6. Adhikari, S., Kelkar, V., Kumar, R., & Halden, R. U. (2022). Methods and challenges in the detection of microplastics and nanoplastics: a mini-review. Polymer International, 71(5), pp. 543–551.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Pittcon.

For more information on this source, please visit Pittcon.


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