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Intercomparison study on commonly used methods to determine microplastics in wastewater and sludge samples

Lares, Mirka, Ncibi, Mohamed Chaker, Sillanpää, Markus, Sillanpää, Mika
Environmental science and pollution research international 2019 v.26 no.12 pp. 12109-12122
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, filtration, microplastics, monitoring, municipal wastewater, sludge, staining
The harmonized procedures in terms of the sampling, sample treatment and identification of microplastics in different environmental samples are missing, which poses challenges to researchers to compare the results or to adopt ‘the most effective’ monitoring approach. Furthermore, in the related literature, the used procedures are rarely tested with spiked microplastics to predetermine their recovery rates. Without this knowledge, results should only be discussed as rough estimations of the real environmental concentrations of microplastics. In this study, six different methods previously used in microplastic studies of different media were tested with municipal wastewater and digested sludge samples, spiked with seven different types of plastic particles and fibres. Recovery rates, time consumption, advantages and disadvantages were assessed and most suitable treatment procedures (i.e. high recovery rates in short amount of time) were chosen for both wastewater and sludge. Suitability of staining with Rose Bengal was examined together with most efficient methods, but it did not improve the recovery of microplastics. In addition, the possible impacts of the treatments for identification with micro-Raman and FTIR microscope were assessed. Filtration with size fractioning was found to be the best method for both wastewater and sludge samples, with recovery rates of spiked microplastics around 91.4% and 92.9%, respectively.