Towards a framework for environmental fate and exposure assessment of polymers

Hattie Brunning, J Brett Sallach, Victor Zanchi, Oliver Price, Alistair Boxall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Development of risk assessment methodologies for polymers is an emerging regulatory priority in order to prevent negative environmental impacts; however, the diversity and complexity of polymers requires adaptation of existing environmental risk assessment approaches. The present review discusses the challenges and opportunities for the fate and exposure assessment of polymers in the context of regulatory environmental risk assessment of chemicals. The review discusses the applicability and adequacy for polymers of existing fate parameters used for non-polymeric compounds, and proposes additional parameters that could inform the fate of polymers. The significance of these parameters in various stages of an exposure assessment framework is highlighted, with classification of polymers as solid or dissolved being key for identification of those parameters most relevant to environmental fate. Considerations to address the key limitations and knowledge gaps are then identified and discussed, specifically: the complexity of polymer identification, with the need for characterisation of the most significant parameters for polymer grouping and prioritisation; the complexity of polymer degradation in the environment, with the need to incorporate the fate and hazards of degradation products into risk assessment; the requirement for development and standardisation of analytical methods for characterisation of polymer fate properties and degradation products; and the need to develop exposure modelling approaches for polymers. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-540
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number3
Early online date16 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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