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Colour and size influences plastic microbead underestimation, regardless of sediment grain size

Nel, Holly A., Dalu, Tatenda, Wasserman, Ryan J., Hean, Jeffrey W.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.655 pp. 567-570
color, microbeads, microplastics, probability, sediments
The quantification of microplastics in environmental samples often requires an observer to determine whether a particle is plastic or non-plastic, prior to further verification procedures. This implies that inconspicuous microplastics with a low natural detection may be underestimated. The present study aimed at assessing this underestimation, looking at how colour (white, green and blue), size (large; ~1000 μm and small; <400 μm) and grain size fraction may affect detection. Sediment treatments varying in grain size were inoculated with known quantities of low-density polyethylene microbeads extracted from commercially bought facial scrubs. These microbeads varied in colour and size. Once extracted using a density separation method microbeads were counted. An overall underestimation of 78.59% may be a result of observer error and/or technical error. More specifically, the results suggested that microbeads varying in colour and size have a different detection probability and that these microbead features are more important in underestimation likelihoods than grain sizes.