Surface adsorption of metallic species onto microplastics with long-term exposure to the natural marine environment

Andrew Lee, Julie Mondon, Andrea Merenda, Ludovic F. Dumée, Damien L. Callahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Microplastics are ubiquitous in most biomes and environments, representing one of the most pressing global environmental challenges. This study investigated the ability of pre-production microplastic pellets to accumulate metals from the marine environment. An accidental ocean discharge of poly(propylene) pellets occurred via a wastewater treatment centre at the coastal city of Warrnambool, Victoria - Australia. These pellets were collected routinely from Shelly Beach, adjacent to the ocean discharge site over a period of 16-months following the spill. This collection formed a unique time-series that accurately represented the degree to which metal ions in the coastal marine environment accumulate on plastic debris. Elemental analysis indicated an increase in concentration over time of rare earth elements and a selection of other metals supporting the hypothesis that microplastics selectively adsorb metals from the environment. A subset of the poly(propylene) pellets contained a surfactant coating which significantly increased the adsorption capacity. The surface properties in relation to adsorption were further explored with surface imaging and these results are also discussed. This study shows how microplastics act as nucleation points and carriers of trace metal ions in marine environments.

Original languageBritish English
Article number146613
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • Environmental exposure
  • Marine pollution
  • Metal adsorption
  • Microplastics


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