Microplastics in the aquatic environment: Evidence for or against adverse impacts and major knowledge gaps

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There is increasing scientific and public concern over the presence of microplastics (MPs) in the natural environment. Here, we present the results of a systematic review of the literature to assess the weight of evidence for MPs causing environmental harm. We conclude that MPs do occur in surface water and sediments. Fragments and fibers predominate with beads making up only a small proportion of the detected MP types. Concentrations detected are orders of magnitude lower than those reported to affect molecular level endpoints, feeding, reproduction, growth, tissue inflammation and mortality in organisms. The evidence for MPs acting as a vector for hydrophobic organic compounds (HOC) to accumulate in organisms is also weak. The available data therefore suggest that these materials are not causing harm to the environment. There is however a mismatch between the particle types, size ranges, and concentrations of MPs used in laboratory tests and those measured in the environment. Select environmental compartments have also received limited attention. There is an urgent need for studies that address this mismatch by performing better quality and more holistic monitoring studies alongside more environmentally realistic effects studies. Only then will we be able to fully characterize risks of MPs to the environment in order to support the introduction of regulatory controls that can make a real positive difference to environmental quality.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Early online date16 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Oct 2018

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