Polymer chemistry: Plastic testing lab | EAG Laboratories

Plastic debris and microplastics are complex mixtures of chemicals, including additives originally included in plastic products, and environmental contaminants sorbed from surrounding environments, which may impact the environments with which they come into contact. To evaluate the environmental risks of microplastics, the level of exposure and effects of not only the particles themselves but also their associated chemicals in the environment should be analyzed. However, limited field data is available on chemicals associated with microplastics, especially additive chemicals. This study investigated the levels and profiles of chemicals (both sorbed and additive chemicals) in various types of plastic particles (in size and shape) collected from the Korean coastal waters. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (DDTs, HCHs, and HCB), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), brominated flame retardants (PBDE and HBCD), phthalates, UV stabilizers, antioxidants were widely detected in microplastic samples. Except for expanded polystyrene (EPS) samples, phthalates showed the highest concentrations in most of size classes ( 5 cm) and shapes (fragments, fibers, and pellets), followed by HBCDs, UV stabilizers, antioxidants, PAHs, PBDEs, PCBs and DDTs. EPS samples contained relatively high concentration of HBCDs and PAHs compared to fragments, pellets, and fibers. There was no significant difference in concentrations of the chemicals among size classes ( 5 cm), which might be due to the diversity in their original plastic products, environmental exposure time, ect. This is the first detection of additive chemicals in microplastics smaller than 1 mm.

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For example, leaching of additive chemicals is facilitated by plastic fragmentation. Moreover, it is well known that plastics accumulate organic and metal pollutants from ambient seawater, including priority pollutants that have been banned for decades (i.e., PCBs and DDT). Scientists have used modeling, laboratory experiments and field research to help answer questions about how chemicals accumulate onto plastics, leach from plastics and affect organisms. For example, studies suggest the transfer of toxic chemicals (PCBs, PBDEs, and phthalates) from marine plastics to biota that ingest plastics can occur. This session aims to highlight studies that focus on: 1) analytical methods to detect, identify, and quantify synthetic polymers, including particles from the nano- to the macro-scale, in complex environmental media including sewage, sediments, and biological tissue, 2) physiochemical characterization of plastics, 3) weathering and fragmentation of plastic debris, 4) the fate of additive chemicals, monomers and oligomers in aquatic habitats and animals 6) the fate of sorbed contaminants in aquatic habitats and animals, and 7) toxicological effects of chemicals associated with plastic debris in marine organisms.

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Additives are essential components of plastic products. Some of them are hazardous to marine organisms and human. They can be also utilized as indicators of plastic-mediated chemical exposure to marine organisms. The present study measured wide range of additives including plasticizers (phthalates), UV absorbers (benzotriazoles and benzophenones), flame retardants (PBDEs, DBDPE, HBCDs, and tetrabromo bisphenol A) in large plastic fragments and microplastic fragments and pellets on sandy beaches, and buoyant microplastics in coastal and open ocean, plastic fragments from fulmar from the Netherland, and preen gland oil from seabirds globally collected. UV absorbers, especially benzotriazoles, are widely detected in large plastic fragments on the beaches and plastic fragments in seabirds’ stomach. They are also detected in preen gland oil from some species of seabirds such as black footed albatross from Tern Island, Hawaii. Brominated flame retardants such as BDE-209 and DBDPE were also detected in the plastic fragments from the stomach of fulmar. They are also detected in preen gland oil from several species of seabirds from some locations in the world such as Hawaii, Western Australia, and Marion Island. These suggest transfer of plastic additives from ingested plastics to the tissue of seabirds. Among beached microplastics, plastic fragments contained more BDE-209 than pellets. In buoyant microplastics even from open ocean, BDE-209 was significantly detected. This means that hydrophobic additives, i.e., BDE-209, is retained in microplastics even after fragmentation and suspension in seawater. These hydrophobic additives could be source of chemical exposure to small marine organisms in remote ecosystem.

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Plastic makes up the majority of marine debris. Plastics are synthetic polymers with diverse molecular structures. When they enter the environment, plastic undergoes physical, chemical and biological weathering which decreases its size via fragmentation and alters its original shape, chemical composition and surface characteristics. As such, chemical techniques are used to measure several variables related to plastic debris. Plastic particles in the micro- and nanometer scales are difficult to identify and quantify, and thus chemical techniques such as Raman and FTIR have become critical. Because plastics in the marine environment are made up of several types of polymers with diverse additive chemicals, chemistry techniques are used to identify and quantify the fate of chemicals from manufacturing.

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EAG’s polymer investigations focus on both the chemistry of these formulated products as well as evaluating their physical and mechanical properties. Depending on our clients’ needs, EAG can offer a strategic combination of physical and chemical testing to address specific questions. We apply multiple analytical techniques, such as spectroscopy, chromatography and microscopy to examine the composition of plastic and polymer products.