Microplastic contamination of lettuces grown in urban vegetable gardens in Lisbon (Portugal)

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Scientists compare the microplastics content of lettuce plants cultivated in Lisbon urban gardens and rural areas, as well as samples bought in supermarkets. All washed leaves showed presence of microplastics, though lettuce grown in urban gardens from high traffic areas showed the highest microplastic levels.

Abstract: Urban vegetable gardens are very often a feature of cities that want to offer their citizens a more sustainable lifestyle by producing their own food products. However, cities can have significant pollution levels (or pollution hotspots) due to specific sources of pollution, such as traffic. Among the various pollutants, microplastics (MPs) are emerging as a consensual concern due to the awareness of the environmental contamination, their bioaccumulation potential and human intake, and, consequently unknown human health impacts. The present study compared the content of MPs in lettuce plants cultivated in Lisbon urban gardens with those cultivated in a rural area, as well as samples bought in supermarkets. Microplastics were detected in all washed leaves, with mean levels ranging from 6.3 ± 6.2 to 29.4 ± 18.2 MPs/g. Lettuce grown in urban gardens from areas with high traffic density showed higher MPs levels. Weak positive Spearman’s rank correlations were found between MPs content and concentrations of Cu and S (determined by Particle Induced X-Ray Emission, PIXE), suggesting a possible role of traffic contribution to MPs levels, as both elements are considered traffic-source tracers. These results contribute to shed light on the MP contamination of vegetables grown in such urban environments, that may represent a potential MP exposure route through the dietary intake, corresponding to a 70% increase in annual MP intake compared to lettuces bought in supermarkets.

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