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Microplastic Mass Concentrations and Distribution in German Bight Waters by Pyrolysis–Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry/Thermochemolysis Reveal Potential Impact of Marine Coatings: Do Ships Leave Skid Marks?

  • Christopher Dibke
    Christopher Dibke
    Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM), Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, P.O. Box 2503, D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany
  • Marten Fischer
    Marten Fischer
    Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM), Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, P.O. Box 2503, D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany
  • , and 
  • Barbara M. Scholz-Böttcher*
    Barbara M. Scholz-Böttcher
    Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM), Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, P.O. Box 2503, D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany
    *Email: [email protected]
Cite this: Environ. Sci. Technol. 2021, 55, 4, 2285–2295
Publication Date (Web):February 1, 2021
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society

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    Abstract Image

    In this first mass-related survey of microplastics (MPs, <1 mm) in the German Bight (North Sea, 2.5 m water depth), spatial load, temporal variations, and potential sources were examined. Relevant plastic types were detected using pyrolysis–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry/thermochemolysis (Py-GC/MS). This suitable method provides qualitative and trace-level polymer or polymer cluster-specific mass quantitative MP data. Neither MP concentration (2–1396 μg m–3) nor type distribution was homogeneous. Concentrations appeared to be substantially influenced by meteorological and oceanographic conditions. The coastal MP-type composition showed an overprint indicating a packaging waste-related signal. Considerably different compositions were observed in central and estuarine areas. Here, a close relation to marine (antifouling) coating particles, i.e., abrased chlorinated rubber-, acryl-styrene-, and epoxide binder-containing particles are hypothesized as the main MP source, indicating ship “skid marks”. They represent a dominant, toxicologically relevant but underestimated marine-based MP share, inverting the widely cited 80% terrestrial- to 20% marine-based debris ratio for MPs. In consequence of the findings, polymer clusters attributed to the basic polymers polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, poly(ethylene terephthalate), poly(vinyl chloride), poly(methyl methacrylate), and polycarbonate are proposed for Py-GC/MS MPs mass determination based on specific thermal decomposition products linked to related polymer structural units.

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    • Single file containing detailed information on the Py-GC/MS/thermochemolysis method parameters, polymer standards, sample background data, polymer masses and mass concentrations for samples as well as procedural and ship blanks, sample filter cake photos, ship traffic density maps for sampling region and period, Py-GC/MS data of coatings, an extended version of Figure 4, as well as an evaluation of procedural blanks, hydrogen peroxide treatment of samples, and secondary MP contamination of samples (PDF)

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