Nanoplastics damage marine creatures’ natural defences, increasing lethal effects of POPs

Nanoplastic Ingestion Enhances Toxicity of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Monogonont Rotifer Brachionus koreanus via Multixenobiotic Resistance (MXR) Disruption

Nano-sized particles of plastic can be more damaging to marine species than larger sized microplastics, a new study shows.

Lab tests revealed that nanoplastics can damage cell membranes in tiny marine creatures called rotifers (Rotifera), disrupting their natural defences against toxicants.

The researchers found that rotifers that had been exposed to nanoparticles of polystyrene were significantly more susceptible to the lethal effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Reference.


Among the various materials found inside microplastic pollution, nanosized microplastics are of particular concern due to difficulties in quantification and detection; moreover, they are predicted to be abundant in aquatic environments with stronger toxicity than microsized microplastics. Here, we demonstrated a stronger accumulation of nanosized microbeads in the marine rotifer Brachionus koreanus compared to microsized ones, which was associated with oxidative stress-induced damages on lipid membranes. In addition, multixenobiotic resistance conferred by P-glycoproteins and multidrug resistance proteins, as a first line of membrane defense, was inhibited by nanoplastic pre-exposure, leading to enhanced toxicity of 2,2′,4,4′-tetrabromodiphenyl ether and triclosan in B. koreanus. Our study provides a molecular mechanistic insight into the toxicity of nanosized microplastics toward aquatic invertebrates and further implies the significance of synergetic effects of microplastics with other environmental persistent organic pollutants.

Les scientifiques alertent sur l’omniprésence des microplastiques

Mini-reportage et interview Brut, Décembre 2019

Les microplastiques sont dans l’eau qu’on boit, dans notre nourriture, et contaminent toute la chaîne alimentaire.

The field of microplastics

Adding microplastics to products is irresponsible since sustainable alternatives already exist

Watch interviews with leading experts and researchers in the field of microplastics as well as representatives from environmental NGOs and industry who explain their concerns with the use of plastic in our society.

Video published on 25 January 2019, by EUchemicals.

Microplastics restriction, a step forward, but when will the EU ban their use ?

Is the EU taking the first step to completely phase out microplastics ?

Zero Waste Europe, Press Release, Brussels 30/01/2019


“The EU will use its powerful chemical laws to stop most microplastics and microbeads being added to cosmetics, paints, detergents, some farm, medical and other products, according to a draft law due to be tabled today.” …

… “The restriction is expected to become law across Europe by 2020. It will prevent an estimated 400,000 tonnes of plastic pollution, the agency says. NGOs welcomed the move as a significant step forward, but strongly warn that it grants unnecessary delays for most industrial sectors and excludes some biodegradable polymers. As it stands, the draft law will only restrict one sector when it comes into force, namely cleansing products made by firms that have already pledged to stop using microplastic. Other sectors will be granted 2-6 years before the law takes effect. The proposal will go to public consultation this summer followed by economic, social and risk assessments, then a vote by government experts in the secretive REACH committee not before early 2020.” …

Read EU moves to ban microplastics in most products, ECHA’s proposal, ECHA’s annex and press release.

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More than 50% of the population may have microplastics in their body

Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in ‘first study of its kind’

Researchers monitored a group of participants from 8 countries across the world with results showing that every single stool sample tested positive for the presence of microplastic and up to 9 different plastic types were identified.

Vienna, October 23, 2018 –  Microplastics have been found in the human food chain as particles made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) and others were detected in human stools, research presented today at the 26th UEG Week in Vienna reveals.

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria monitored a group of participants from countries across the world, including Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria. The results show that every single stool sample tested positive for the presence of microplastic and up to nine different plastic types were identified.

Microplastics present in soft drinks, Italian study says


A recent investigation in Italy found microplastics present in soft drinks.

We live immersed in plastic. It can be found everywhere; we see it in the seas, dragged by the waters of our rivers, even scattered on mountain peaks or in the countryside that we still consider uncontaminated… Now we are beginning to realize that we eat and drink it. And we can do very little about that, if things do not change. In fact, what comes from our food, spices, water and, as shown by the first analysis carried out by Il Salvagente on 18 industrial beverages, from cola to orangeade, from lemonade to iced tea, we cannot see it with the naked eye nor can we avoid it.


How Are You Going to Beat Plastic Pollution ?

Join the global game of #BeatPlasticPollution tag!

Video published on 31 May 2018 by UN Environment.

Do you remember playing tag as a kid? So do we.

More Information

  • World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries.
  • Read Healthy Environment, Healthy People.
  • Watch our interviews and trailers video playlist on YouTube.

90% of Bottled Water show Signs of Plastic Particles

Microplastics found in most bottled water

Bottled water is marketed as the very essence of purity. It’s the fastest-growing beverage market in the world, valued at US$147 billion per year.

But new research by  a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., Orb Media, shows that a single bottle can hold dozens or possibly even thousands of microscopic plastic particles.

Tests on more than 250 bottles from 11 brands reveal contamination with plastic including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).


  • Tested 259 individual bottles from 27 different lots across 11 brands
    • Purchased from 19 locations in 9 countries
  • 93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination
    • After accounting for possible background (lab) contamination
  • Average of 10.4 microplastic particles >100 um per liter of bottled water
    • Confirmed by FTIR spectroscopic analysis
    • Twice as much as within previous study on tap water
  • Including smaller particles (6.5–100 um), average of 325 microplastic particles per liter
    • Identified via Nile Red tagging alone
    • No spectroscopic confirmation
    • Range of 0 to over 10,000 microplastic particles per liter
    • 95% are particles between 6.5–100 um in size
  • For particles > 100 um:
    • Fragments were the most common morphology (66%) followed by fibers
    • Polypropylene was the most common polymer (54%)
      • Matches a common plastic used for the bottle cap
    • 4% of particles showed presence of industrial lubricants
  • Data suggests contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or the bottling process itself


Twenty-seven different lots of bottled water from 11 different brands purchased in 19 locations across 9 different countries were analyzed for microplastic contamination using a Nile Red stain, which adsorbs to polymeric material and fluoresces under specific wavelengths of incident light. The use of the fluorescent dye allowed for smaller particles to be detected as compared to a similar study of tap water using a Rose Bengal stain, though the analytical methods employed for their enumeration restricted the lower size limit to 6.5 micrometers.

Of the 259 total bottles analyzed, 93% showed signs of microplastics. There was significant variation even among bottles of the same brand and lot, which is consistent with environmental sampling and likely resulting from the complexities of microplastic sources, the manufacturing process and particle-fluid dynamics, among others. As bottle volume varied across brands, absolute particle counts were divided by bottle volume in order to produce microplastic particle densities that were comparable across all brands, lots and bottles. These densities were reduced by lab blanks in order to account for any possible contamination. Given our use of lab blanks, the inability to photograph the full filter, the lower limit of one pixel being equivalent to 6.5 micrometers, and control runs of the software employed to digitally count particles less than 100 micrometers, the numbers reported here are very conservative and likely undercounting, especially with regard to smaller microplastics (<100 micrometers), which were found to be more prominent (on average 95%) as compared to particles greater than 100 micrometers (on average 5%).

Infrared analysis of particles greater than 100 micrometers in size confirmed microplastic identity and found polypropylene to be the most common (54%) polymeric material (at least with regard to these larger microplastics), consistent with a common plastic employed to manufacture bottle caps. Smaller particles (6.5–100 micrometers) could not be analyzed for polymer identification given the analytical limits of the lab. While these smaller particles could not be spectroscopically confirmed as plastic, Nile Red adsorbs to hydrophobic (‘water-fearing’) materials, which are not reasonably expected to be naturally found within bottled water. Our FTIR analysis of larger (>100 um particles) fluorescing particles, all of which were confirmed to be polymeric, provides additional support of the selective binding of NR to microplastic particles within the samples. Even further, Schymanski et al. (2018) did spectroscopically confirm (via Raman) particles within this smaller size range in German bottled water as being polymeric in nature provide additional support for their presence. Given this and following the conclusions of prior studies (e.g., Maes et al. (2017) and Erni-Cassola et al. (2017)) the adsorption of Nile Red alone was used to confer microplastic identity to these smaller particles. As the specific polymer content could not be determined, they could very well show a different compositional pattern as compared to the larger particles analyzed. This could explain the difference in our polymeric compositional analysis relative to a very recent and similar analysis of bottled mineral waters by Schymanski et al. (2018), which found PEST (polyester+polyethylene terephthalate) to be the most common polymeric material, consistent with a common plastic employed to manufacture the bottle itself. Either way both studies indicate that at least part of the microplastic contamination is arising from the packaging material &/or the bottling process itself.

Plastic nanoparticles likely to be transferred even further up the food web to ultimately reach humans

Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain

2017 Study Abstract

The tremendous increases in production of plastic materials has led to an accumulation of plastic pollution worldwide. Many studies have addressed the physical effects of large-sized plastics on organisms, whereas few have focused on plastic nanoparticles, despite their distinct chemical, physical and mechanical properties. Hence our understanding of their effects on ecosystem function, behaviour and metabolism of organisms remains elusive. Here we demonstrate that plastic nanoparticles reduce survival of aquatic zooplankton and penetrate the blood-to-brain barrier in fish and cause behavioural disorders. Hence, for the first time, we uncover direct interactions between plastic nanoparticles and brain tissue, which is the likely mechanism behind the observed behavioural disorders in the top consumer. In a broader perspective, our findings demonstrate that plastic nanoparticles are transferred up through a food chain, enter the brain of the top consumer and affect its behaviour, thereby severely disrupting the function of natural ecosystems.


The amount of plastics in the world’s water bodies is rapidly increasing and this material degrades in size over time and will eventually break down into plastic nanoparticles. Due to their small size, they easily enter the basis of natural food chains, although it is unclear how these particles affect aquatic ecosystems. We show here that 52 nm positively charged amino modified polystyrene nanoparticles are toxic to Daphnia and that fish feeding on Daphnia containing plastic nanoparticles change their behaviour in terms of activity, feeding time and the distance they need to swim to consume their provided food. Furthermore, the behavioural changes depend on the size of the particles. However, fish receiving 180 nm particles were differently affected as they were the fastest feeders and had the highest activity. In nature, the particles likely become aggregated with biological or inorganic material, but we here show that the nano-size effect remains after passing through the Daphnia digestive system. For example, Ward et al. exposed the blue mussel Mytilus edulis and the oyster Crassostrea virginica to polystyrene nanoparticles, aggregated nanoparticles and micro-particles and found a higher ingestion rate for the aggregated nanoparticles. Wegner et al. exposed the mussel Mytilus edulis to polystyrene nanoparticles both as nano-sized particles and as aggregated polystyrene nanoparticles. They found a reduced filtering rate and an increased production of pseudofeces. In this context, our results point to an acute need for a deeper understanding of the size-dependent toxicity effects of nanoparticles when released into nature. How these particles affect organisms higher up in the food web, such as fish, as well as how they affect birds and mammals are unclear. In 2015, the estimated amount of plastics being released into the ocean was between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons, with a steady increase the coming years. Eventually this plastic will degrade in size and reach the nanometer size range.

Here we demonstrate how plastic nanoparticles are transported up the food chain and are detected in brain tissue of the fish top consumer whereas no polystyrene were detected in the control group. Moreover, we also here report macroscopic changes in the brain structure and water content in fish that have received plastic nanoparticles. By using hyperspectral microscopy, we were able to detect polystyrene particles in fish brain tissue and thereby we have, for the first time, demonstrated that the plastics nanoparticles can be transported across the blood-brain barrier in fish. Moreover, this result suggests a mechanistic link between the observed behavioural changes and the presence of plastic nanoparticles in the brain tissue. In the present study, we observed changes in the brain which may have been caused by specific interactions between the plastics and the brain tissue, although we cannot rule out that other organs may also be affected. Our study lasted for two months, but during the first half of the experiment we observed no changes in behaviour of the nanoparticle fed fish, suggesting that fish are affected by the particles that are accumulated in the fish. In nature, the Daphnia and fish are likely exposed to low concentrations of plastic nanoparticles during their whole life-time, which allows accumulation processes to act for a much longer time period than in our study, since fish, such as crucian carp, may live for more than 10 years. However, our results also imply that effects on biota from plastic nanoplastics are dependent on both concentration and size of the particles, which opens up for manufacturers to adjust production of nanoparticles to sizes that are less hazardous to organism metabolism and thereby ecosystem function.

The main conclusion from our study is that plastic nanoparticles are transferred through three tropic levels, suggesting that they are likely to be transferred even further up the food web to ultimately reach humans, the top-level consumer. Hence, in a broader perspective, our results may have implications for human wellbeing, although such consequences of the accelerating disposal rate of plastics is yet not well recognized or understood.

Full Paper

  • Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain, Nature Scientific Reports, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-10813-0, 13 September 2017.
  • Nanoparticles featured image : Food chain from algae-zooplankton-fish, nanoparticles (53 nm mass (dark blue), 53 nm surface area (light blue) and 180 nm (red)) credit nature.

Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment

A global assessment, Part 2, 2016

GESAMP 2017 2nd report on the microplastics issue.

This report provides an update and further assessment of the sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment, carried out by Working Group 40 (WG40) of GESAMP (The Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Protection). It follows publication of the first assessment report in this series in April 2015 (GESAMP 2015). The issue of marine plastic litter was raised during the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in June 2014. Delegates from 160 countries adopted Resolution 1/6 on ‘Marine plastic debris and microplastics’ (Annex I). The resolution welcomed the work being undertaken by GESAMP on microplastics and requested the Executive Director of UNEP to carry out a study on marine plastics and microplastics. This was to be based on a combination of existing and new studies, including WG40. This provided the motivation for GESAMP to revise the original terms of reference to reflect both the request from UNEP to contribute to the UNEA study, and the key recommendations from the WG40 2015 report.

Each main section begins with key messages followed by a short summary of related findings from the first report. Each section ends with conclusions, knowledge gaps and research priorities. Greater effort has been made to describe the nature, distribution and magnitude of sources of macro- and microplastics. These are described by sea-based and land-based sectors, together with the main entry points to the ocean. Spatial (regional) and temporal differences in both sources and entry points are examined. One previously unrecognized source of secondary microplastics highlighted is debris from vehicle tyres.

The distribution of microplastics in the five main ocean compartments (sea surface, water column, shoreline, seabed and biota) are described, together with the transport mechanisms that regulate fluxes between compartments. Regional ‘hot-spots’ of sources, distribution and accumulation zones are reported, in response to the UNEA request.

The effects of microplastics on marine biota have been explored in greater detail.

Greater attention has been given to the interaction of microplastics with biota. A comprehensive literature review has been assembled with tables summarising the occurrence of microplastics in a wide variety of marine organisms and seabirds. There does appear to be an association between uptake of microplastics and changes in the physiological or biochemical response in some species, observed in laboratory experiments. It is not clear whether this will be significant at a population level with current observed microplastic numbers. The current understanding of the interaction of plasticassociated chemicals with biota is reviewed, using laboratory-based experiments, theoretical studies and field-based observations. It appears very likely that this interaction will be dependent on:

  • the species;
  • the relative degree of contamination of the plastic, the biota concerned and the marine environment (sediment, water, foodstuff) in that region;
  • the size, shape and type of plastics;
  • and several time-related variables (e.g. environmental transport, gut desorption rates).

This remains a contentious area of research. The occurrence of nano-sized plastics in the marine environment has yet to be established and we are dependent on drawing inferences from other fields of science and medicine when considering possible effects. Microplastics can act as vectors for both indigenous and non-indigenous species. Examples include pathogenic Vibrio bacteria, eggs of marine insects and the resting stages of several jellyfish species.

A new section considers the possible effect of microplastics on commercial fish and shellfish. Microplastics have been found in a variety of commercial fish and shellfish, including samples purchased from retail outlets. Generally the numbers of particles per organism are very small, even for filter-feeding bivalves in coastal areas bordered by high coastal populations. At these levels it is not considered likely that microplastics will influence the breeding/development success of fish stocks (food security) nor represent an objective risk to human health (food safety). However, data are rather scarce and this is an area that justifies further attention.

The economic aspects of microplastic contamination are considered in another new section. This relies heavily on studies looking at the effects of macrodebris on various sectors (e.g. fisheries, shipping, tourism, waste management), given the paucity of knowledge of direct economic effects of microplastics. Acting on macroplastics may be easier to justify, as the social, ecological and economic effects are easier to demonstrate. This in turn will reduce the quantities of secondary microplastics being generated in the ocean. One significant cost that may be incurred would be the provision of wastewater treatment capable of filtering out microplastics. Such systems are relatively common in some rich countries but absent in many developing nations. Clearly, there are many other reasons to introduce improved wastewater treatment (nutrient reduction, disease prevention), with reduction in microplastics being an additional benefit.

Social aspects are focused around factors influencing long-term behaviour change, including risk perceptions, perceived responsibility and the influence of demographics. This is key to implementing effective, acceptable measures.

A separate section summarizes good practice guidance on sampling and analysis at sea, in sediments and in biological samples. There are no global ‘standards’ but if these guidelines are followed then it will be easier to generate quality-assured data, in a cost-effective manner, and for datasets to be compared and combined with more confidence.

The final main section presents an initial risk assessment framework. Having described some basic principles about risk, likelihood and consequences the section provides a conceptual framework and two case examples (one real, one hypothetical) of how the framework can be utilized.

The report concludes with key conclusions and recommendations for further research.