Variability in Toxicity of Plastic Leachates as a Function of Weathering and Polymer Type: A Screening Study with the Copepod Nitocra spinipes


Abstract: The production and use of plastic over many decades has resulted in its accumulation in the world’s oceans. Plastic debris poses a range of potential risks to the marine environment and its biota. Especially, the potential hazards of small plastic debris and chemicals associated with plastic have not been extensively studied. When buoyant plastic is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, it will slowly degrade and leach chemicals into surrounding waters. These leachates can include additives, sorbed organic pollutants, and degradation products of the plastic polymers. While most hazard assessments have focused on studying adverse effects due to the uptake of plastic, toxicity studies of the leachates of plastics are less common. To begin to address this knowledge gap, we studied the acute toxicity of leachates from diverse plastics in the harpacticoid copepod Nitocra spinipes. Our results show that leachates caused a higher toxicity after plastic was exposed to ultraviolet light compared to leaching in darkness. We observed differences in toxicity for different polymer types: polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene resulted in the most toxic leachates, while polystyrene and poly[ethylene terephthalate] were least toxic. Furthermore, we observed increased toxicity of leachates from some plastics that had been weathered in the real marine environment compared to matching new materials. Our results indicate that both weathering condition and polymer type influence the toxicity of plastic leachates.

Authors: Berit Gewert, Matthew MacLeod, Magnus Breitholtz
; Full Source: The Biological bulletin 2021 Jun;240(3):191-199. doi: 10.1086/714506.