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Rapid Monitoring Approach for Microplastics Using Portable Pyrolysis-Mass Spectrometry

Zhang, Xiangnan, Zhang, Hong, Yu, Kai, Li, Na, Liu, Yuning, Liu, Xiangyu, Zhang, Hengnan, Yang, Bin, Wu, Wenhai, Gao, Jing, Jiang, Jie
Analytical chemistry 2020 v.92 no.6 pp. 4656-4662
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, ions, microplastics, monitoring, pollution, polyethylene, polymethylmethacrylate, polypropylenes, polystyrenes, pyrolysis, rapid methods, risk, surveys
Microplastics (MPs) pollution has drawn increasing concern due to its widespread occurrence and potential risks in the environment. The reliable methods and instruments for fast analysis of microplastics (MPs) less than 5 mm are urgently needed. In this study, a new method based on custom-made portable pyrolysis-mass spectrometry (Pyr-MS) is developed, which enables rapid identification and mass related quantification of MPs. MPs are decomposed in the compact pyrolyzer and then directly analyzed in the portable MS by the chemical fingerprints of polymers including characteristic ions and their special ratio. It avoids the complex extraction and separation procedures of the pyrolysis/thermogravimetric–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (Pyr/TGA-GC-MS), realizes the rapid analysis of MPs in 5 min, and thus can practically apply to a large number of MPs samples. In comparison to Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) and Raman, this method is not limited by the shape, size, and color of MPs. Four common plastics including polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) were investigated to verify the feasibility of this method. The environmental MPs samples collected from a beach were successfully identified and quantified, demonstrating the simplicity and practicality of this approach. The influence of plastics aging on the chemical fingerprints and the potential of mixed plastics detection by Pyr-MS are also assessed. The portable Pyr-MS could provide a promising tool for in-field analysis of MPs such as ship-based marine MPs surveys.