Chapter

Marine Anthropogenic Litter

pp 325-340

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Date:

Nanoplastics in the Aquatic Environment. Critical Review

  • Albert A. KoelmansAffiliated withAquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen UniversityIMARES—Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen UR Email author 
  • , Ellen BesselingAffiliated withAquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen UniversityIMARES—Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies, Wageningen UR
  • , Won J. ShimAffiliated withOil and POPs Research Group, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and TechnologyMarine Environmental Chemistry and Biology, University of Science and Technology

Abstract

A growing body of literature reports on the abundance and effects of plastic debris, with an increasing focus on microplastic particles smaller than 5 mm. It has often been suggested that plastic particles in the <100 nm size range as defined earlier for nanomaterials (here referred to as ‘nanoplastics’), may be emitted to or formed in the aquatic environment. Nanoplastics is probably the least known area of marine litter but potentially also the most hazardous. This paper provides the first review on sources, effects and hazards of nanoplastics. Detection methods are in an early stage of development and to date no nanoplastics have actually been detected in natural aquatic systems. Various sources of nanoplastics have been suggested such as release from products or nanofragmentation of larger particles. Nanoplastic fate studies for rivers show an important role for sedimentation of heteroaggregates, similar to that for non-polymer nanomaterials. Some prognostic effect studies have been performed but effect thresholds seem higher than nanoplastic concentrations expected in the environment. The high surface area of nanoplastics may imply that toxic chemicals are retained by nanoplastics, possibly increasing overall hazard. Release of non-polymer nanomaterial additives from small product fragments may add to the hazard of nanoplastics. Because of the presence of such co-contaminants, effect studies with nanoplastics pose some specific practical challenges. We conclude that hazards of nanoplastics are plausible yet unclear, which calls for a thorough evaluation of nanoplastic sources, fate and effects.