Enhanced in vitro toxicity of plastic leachates after UV irradiation


Plastics can release numerous chemicals and thereby, contribute to the chemical pollution in aquatic systems. To which extent environmental degradation processes influence the release of plastic chemicals, is currently unknown and subject of research. We therefore evaluated aqueous leachates of 12 differently formulated plastics (e.g., pre-production, post-industrial and recycled pellets as well as final products) using in vitro bioassays and chemical analysis via LC-HRMS nontarget approach. We weathered these plastics by UV irradiation (UV-C and UV-A/B) under laboratory conditions in dryness and a subsequent leaching period in ultrapure water (‘atmospheric’ weathering) or directly in water (‘aquatic’ weathering, UV-A/Baq). A dark control (DC) without UV light served as a reference treatment. Some plastics triggered several toxicological endpoints (low-density polyethylene recyclate (LDPE-R), starch blend (SB), bio-based polybutylene succinate (Bio-PBS) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC)), whereas others caused little to no effects (polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP) and LDPE). UV irradiation enhanced the plastics’ toxicity, even for samples initially evaluated as toxicologically inconspicuous. The plastic samples caused oxidative stress (85%), baseline toxicity (42%), antiestrogenicity (40%) and antiandrogenicity (27%). Positive findings were measured after UV-C (63%) and UV-A/Baq (50%) treatments, followed by UV-A/B (48%) and DC (33%). Overall, we detected between 42 (DC) and 2896 (UV-A/Baq) chemical compounds. Our study demonstrates that differently formulated plastics leach toxic chemicals. UV exacerbates the plastics’ toxicity by either generating active compounds and/or by facilitating their release. UV light even leads to the release of bioactive compounds from plastics of low chemical complexity. To prevent the exposure to plastic-associated chemicals, the application of chemicals could be reduced to a minimum, while on a regulatory level the evaluation of plastic eluates could be another focal point next to singular compounds.

Authors: Kristina Klein, Delia Hof, Andrea Dombrowski, Peter Schweyen, Georg Dierkes, Thomas Ternes, Ulrike Schulte-Oehlmann, Jörg Oehlmann
; Full Source: Water research 2021 Jul 1;199:117203. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2021.117203.