How high are concentrations of microplastics in the environment, in our drinking water or in foods? Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed an automated analysis method for the identification and quantification of particles.
Microplastics are everywhere in the environment. The tiny particles, with diameters of less than 5 millimeters, can also absorb and transport contaminants and toxins. “We urgently need analytical techniques to learn about the size, concentration and composition of these particles,” says Dr. Natalia Ivleva at the Chair of Analytical Chemistry and Water Chemistry at TUM. Together with her team, the scientist has developed a new process.
To be able to detect microplastic particles, the researchers had several hurdles to overcome: The first was the problem of low concentrations. River water, for example, contains massive amounts of suspended solids and fine sand, with plastic accounting for less than 1 percent of the particles. These particles must first be isolated before their concentrations and ultimately their chemical composition are determined. Previous methods have relied on the analysis of the residues that are released when the samples are heated. With that approach, however, it is not possible to determine the number, size and shape of the plastic particles.