Nano-plastics are particles of at least one dimension below one μm. While there has been growing awareness of the dangers of visible plastic pollution to marine life, nano-plastics are thought to be even more dangerous as unseen, smaller animals and fish can ingest them.
Nano-plastics are suspected of being released into the environment directly by commercial products and by the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic litter.
In a study published by the journal Communications Materials, researchers from the University of Surrey detail a new one-step polymerization method to label nano-polystyrene directly on the carbon backbone of plastic. The new simple method uses 14C-styrene and requires minimal reagents and equipment to create nano-particles in a wide range of sizes for use in simulated lab environments.
The team has used their new method to produce and investigate the behaviour of nano-plastics at low concentrations in a variety of scenarios – including in bivalve mollusc.
Dr Maya Al Sid Cheikh, co-author of the study and Lecturer in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Surrey, said:
“The truth is that the scientific community knows little about the effects and behaviour of nano-plastics in our environment because it’s extraordinarily difficult to detect, track and measure such minute particles.
“Our new, simple method is a step in the right direction for correcting this knowledge gap as it allows researchers to replicate scenarios in which commercially produced nano-particles have customarily gone unnoticed.”
Al-Sid-Cheikh M, Rowland SJ, Kaegi R, Henry TB, Cormier M-A, Thompson RC. Synthesis of 14 C-labelled polystyrene nanoplastics for environmental studies. Communications Materials. 2020;1(1):1-8. doi:10.1038/s43246-020-00097-9
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