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A review of microplastic fibres: generation, transport, and vectors for metal(loid)s in terrestrial environments

Frost, H., Bond, T., Sizmur, T. ORCID: and Felipe-Sotelo, M. (2022) A review of microplastic fibres: generation, transport, and vectors for metal(loid)s in terrestrial environments. Environmental Science: Process and Impacts, 24 (4). pp. 504-524. ISSN 2050-7895

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1039/d1em00541c


The laundering of synthetic fabrics has been identified as an important and diffuse source of microplastic (< 5 mm) fibre contamination to wastewater systems. Home laundering can release up to 13 million fibres per kg of fabric, which end up in wastewater treatment plants. During treatment, 72- 99% of microplastics are retained in the residual sewage sludge, which can contain upwards of 56,000 microplastics per kg. Sewage sludge is commonly disposed of by application to agricultural land as a soil amendment. In some European countries, application rates are up to 91%, representing an important pathway for microplastics to enter the terrestrial environment, which urgently requires quantification. Sewage sludge also often contains elevated concentrations of metals and metalloids, and some studies have quantified metal(loid) sorption onto various microplastics. The sorption of metals and metalloids is strongly influenced by the chemical properties of the sorbate, the solution chemistry, and the physicochemical properties of the microplastics themselves. Plastic-water partition coefficients for the sorption of cadmium, mercury and lead onto microplastics are up to 8, 32, and 217 mL g-1 respectively. Sorptive capacities of microplastics may increase over time, due to environmental degradation processes increasing the specific surface area and surface density of oxygen-containing functional groups. A range of metal(loid)s, including cadmium, chromium, and zinc, have been shown to readily desorb from microplastics under acidic conditions. Sorbed metal(loid)s may therefore become more bioavailable to soil organisms when the microplastics are ingested, due to the acidic gut conditions facilitating desorption. Polyester (polyethylene terephthalate) should be of particular focus for future research, as no quantitative sorption studies currently exist, it is potentially overlooked from density separation studies due to its high density, and it is by far the most widely used fibre in apparel textiles production.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Earth Systems Science
Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Soil Research Centre
ID Code:104481
Publisher:Royal Society of Chemistry


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