Case Study

The aim of the case study was to evaluate the applicability of FPA-based microFTIR imaging for the measurement of microplastic particles in environmental samples. We tested this technique on particles, which were purified and pre-extracted from sediment samples.

Materials and Methods

All steps preceding the micro-FTIR analysis (sampling, preparation, counting etc.) were done by the Lower Saxony Water Management, Coastal Defense and Nature Conservation Agency (NLWKN) or its contractors, which provided the samples.

Sediment Sampling

During a large-scale microplastics baseline assessment of the NLWKN, North Sea sediments were sampled at 101 stations along the German coast of Lower Saxony and on the East Frisian Islands between November 2011 and March 2012. Seventy-three stations were sampled on the islands of Baltrum, Juist, Kachelotplate, Mellum, Minsener Oog and Spiekeroog. On the islands, samples were taken in transects with five sub-samples at each station from the low-water line towards the vegetation zone of the first dune. Sixteen eulittoral samples were taken in the back-barrier tidal flat of Norderney and Spiekeroog and the tidalflats “Hoher Weg” and “Wurster Watt”. Twelve sublittoral samples were taken on north-south transects at depths of 5, 10 and 20 m off the islands Baltrum, Juist and Spiekeroog and at one station in a tidal inlet in the back-barrier tidal flat of each island.

Beach and eulittoral samples were obtained at the onshore stations by sampling of five replicate areas of 10 × 10 cm within 1 m2 down to a depth of 1 cm using a metal frame of the abovementioned dimensions. Sublittoral samples at the offshore stations were obtained by a van Veen grab and the recovered material was also sampled on an area of 10 × 10 cm and down to 1 cm depth. Five grab samples were taken at each sublittoral station. No plastic equipment was used during sampling and all samples were stored in aluminium foil until further processing.

Extraction of Microplastics

After drying at 60 °C the samples were screened over a 500 µm metal sieve as suggested by Hidalgo-Ruz et al. (2012) to obtain two size fractions of microplastics.

The fraction >500 µm was stored and not considered further in this study. The material passing through the sieve was homogenized and analyzed.

For the extraction of microplastics 10 g of each sediment sample were treated with 50 ml 30 % hydrogen peroxide overnight to remove natural organic material. After a second drying step, microplastic particles were extracted via density separation in zinc chloride solution (1.5 g cm−3) in a 100-ml glass beaker. After stirring the sample was treated in an ultrasonic bath for 15 min and the beaker kept covered overnight for the sedimentation of sand particles. Potential microplastic particles that accumulated at the surface of the zinc chloride solution were sampled with a syringe and finally filtered onto gray, pre-washed cellulose nitrate filters with a pore size of 1.2 µm and a grid of 3.1 mm. The filters were dried for further analysis.

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