Exposure protocol for ecotoxicity testing of microplastics and nanoplastics

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Scientists offer proposed guidelines for testing the toxicity of microplastics and nanoplastics on living organisms and systems.

Abstract: Despite the increasing concern about the harmful effects of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs), there are no harmonized guidelines or protocols yet available for MNP ecotoxicity testing. Current ecotoxicity studies often use commercial spherical particles as models for MNPs, but in nature, MNPs occur in variable shapes, sizes and chemical compositions. Moreover, protocols developed for chemicals that dissolve or form stable dispersions are currently used for assessing the ecotoxicity of MNPs. Plastic particles, however, do not dissolve and also show dynamic behavior in the exposure medium, depending on, for example, MNP physicochemical properties and the medium’s conditions such as pH and ionic strength. Here we describe an exposure protocol that considers the particle-specific properties of MNPs and their dynamic behavior in exposure systems. Procedure 1 describes the top-down production of more realistic MNPs as representative of MNPs in nature and particle characterization (e.g., using thermal extraction desorption-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry). Then, we describe exposure system development for short- and long-term toxicity tests for soil (Procedure 2) and aquatic (Procedure 3) organisms. Procedures 2 and 3 explain how to modify existing ecotoxicity guidelines for chemicals to target testing MNPs in selected exposure systems. We show some examples that were used to develop the protocol to test, for example, MNP toxicity in marine rotifers, freshwater mussels, daphnids and earthworms. The present protocol takes between 24 h and 2 months, depending on the test of interest and can be applied by students, academics, environmental risk assessors and industries.

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