Influence of polystyrene microplastic and nanoplastic on copper toxicity in two freshwater microalgae

Abstract

There has been increasing concern over the toxic effects of microplastics (MP), nanoplastics (NP), and copper (Cu) on microalgae. However, the combined toxicity of the metal in the presence of polystyrene (PS) MP/NP on microalgae has not been well studied, particularly after long-term exposure (i.e., longer than 4 days). The primary aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of PS MP and NP on Cu toxicity on two freshwater microalgae, namely Chlorella sp. TJ6-5 and Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata NIES-35 after acute exposure for 4 days and up to 16 days. The results showed that both microalgae were sensitive to Cu, but tolerant to MP/NP. However, MP/NP increased the toxicity of Cu at EC50 in both microalgae, which was only noticeable in chronic exposure. Single and combined treatment of MP/NP and Cu induced higher oxidative stress and caused morphological and ultrastructural changes in both microalgae. The adsorption of Cu to MP and NP was low (0.23–14.9%), with most of the Cu present in free ionic form (81.6–105.8%). The findings on different sensitivity of microalgae to Cu in the presence of MP/NP may have significant implication as microalgae are likely to be exposed to a mixture of both MP/NP and Cu in the environment. For example, in air-blasting technology, MP and NP are used as abrasive medium to remove Cu-containing antifouling paints on hulls of ship and submerged surfaces. Wastewater treatment plants receive household wastes containing MP and NP, as well as stormwater runoffs and industrial wastes contaminated with heavy metals.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to dedicate this paper to Professor Chu Wan Loy. We also would like to acknowledge International Medical University for providing the funding and research facility to support this project.

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The authors declare that all data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its supplementary information files.

Funding

This project was financially supported by Internal Grant IMU 377/2017 from International Medical University.

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  1. Deceased on 15 June 2020

    • Wan-Loy Chu
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Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, and data collection and analysis were performed by J.K. The first draft of the article was written by JK and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors (J.K., Y.Y., and C.S.) read and approved the final manuscript. Written consent was obtained from the widow of the late W.L. to include his name in the final manuscript. The authors (J.K., Y.Y., and C.S.) were agreeable to the inclusion of W.L.’s name in final authorship list as he was instrumental in critically reviewing the early versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jun-Kit Wan.

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Wan, JK., Chu, WL., Kok, YY. et al. Influence of polystyrene microplastic and nanoplastic on copper toxicity in two freshwater microalgae. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-12983-x

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Keywords

  • Microplastic
  • Nanoplastic
  • Copper
  • Chlorella
  • Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata
  • Combined toxicity
  • Adsorption study