Influence of microplastics on the bioconcentration of organic contaminants in fish: Is the “Trojan horse” effect a matter of concern?


Microplastics (MPs) have been shown to act as sorbent phases and thus carriers of organic chemicals in the aquatic environment. Therefore, concerns exist that MP ingestion increases the uptake and accumulation of organic chemicals by aquatic organisms. However, it is unclear if this pathway is relevant compared to other exposure pathways. Here we compared the bioconcentration capacity of two hydrophobic organic chemicals (i.e., chlorpyrifos and hexachlorobenzene) in a freshwater fish (Danio rerio) when exposed to chemicals through water only and in combination with contaminated polyethylene MPs. Additionally, a suite of biomarker analyses (acetylcholine esterase, glutathione S-transferase, alkaline phosphatase, catalase) was carried out to test whether MPs can enhance the toxic stress caused by chemicals. Two 14-day semi-static experiments (one for each chemical) were carried out with adult fish. Each experiment consisted of (1) a control treatment (no chemicals, no MPs); (2) a treatment in which fish were exposed to chlorpyrifos or hexachlorobenzene only through water; (3) a treatment in which fish were exposed to the chemicals through water and contaminated polyethylene MPs (100 mg MP/L). Two additional treatments were included for the biomarker analysis. These contained MPs at two different concentrations (5 and 100 mg MP/L) but no chemicals. The presence of contaminated MPs in contaminated water did not enhance but rather decreased the bioconcentration of both chemicals in fish compared to the treatment that contained contaminated water in absence of MPs. This was more pronounced for hexachlorobenzene, which is more hydrophobic than chlorpyrifos. Enzyme activity levels in fish were only significantly altered in the presence of MPs for alkaline phosphatase. This study indicates that MP presence in freshwater ecosystems is not expected to increase the risks associated with chemical bioconcentration in aquatic organisms and that other exposure pathways (i.e., uptake via respiration, skin permeability) may be of higher importance.

Authors: Theresa Schell, Andreu Rico, Laura Cherta, Leonor Nozal, Raquel Dafouz, Roberto Giacchini, Marco Vighi
; Full Source: Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987) 2022 May 14;119473. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119473.