Ecotoxicological Assessment of Microplastics in Rivers

Understanding the Impacts of Plastic Pollution on Ecosystems

Every year, about 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic waste are released into the world’s lakes and oceans. In the past decade, small plastic fragments (microplastics) in oceans – their origin, abundance and impacts – have received huge public and scientific attention. Despite the fact that microplastics are also ubiquitously found in freshwater ecosystems (e.g. rivers), toxic effects and ecological impacts remain to be studied and evaluated. This is of special importance because rivers not only represent a transport route to the oceans but also act as sink for microplastics. Since society depends on freshwater ecosystems for water and food supply, it is essential to better understand the impacts of plastic pollution on these ecosystems.
This sub-project looks at microplastics from an ecotoxicological perspective. It focuses on the effects of microplastics on aquatic organisms and freshwater ecosystems, in particular rivers. Here, a framework for the risk assessment of freshwater microplastics will be developed to estimate the impact on aquatic environments.

Aim

The aim of this sub-project is to understand how microplastics affect freshwater invertebrates. Important questions are: What is the fate of the plastic once ingested by the species? Is it transferred to specific tissues or immediately excreted? Do microplastics change the species’ feeding behavior or induce inflammatory reactions? How do factors such as polymer type, size and shape influence the toxicity? Additionally, we will investigate if compounds associated with microplastics (e.g. plasticizers) have negative effects when transferred into an organism.
The information generated in this project and by the other group members will be used to assess the environmental risk of freshwater microplastics.

Methods

First, we will review the scientific literature on the toxicity of microplastics and its associated chemicals to freshwater species as well as on risk assessment strategies. Based on the existing knowledge, laboratory studies will be conducted to close knowledge gaps. In parallel, we will explore different risk assessment approaches to develop an adapted framework that covers the particle and chemical properties of microplastics. We will feed this concept with the data generated in the sub-project and collected from the literature to provide a first evaluation of the environmental impacts of freshwater microplastics.

This sub-project will be performed at the Department Aquatic Ecotoxicology at the Goethe University Frankfurt which is part of the PlastX group.

Lisa Zimmermann is working on this sub-project.



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