Project MicroPlastiCarrier

Duration: 01.12.2016 - 30.11.2019  Funding code: EU-1-2-054C

Within the project MicroPlastiCarrier, we will analyze new devices as efficient concepts for an optical detection and identification of microplastics in wastewater. New approaches will be tested and applied to assess the hazardous potentials to health and environment, emanating from the microplastic particles as carriers of harmful pollutants.

The increasing pollution of the environment by microplastic particles is a major challenge for society.

It is believed that the ingestion of microplastics can cause mechanical injury to the gastrointestinal tract of living organisms and initiate inflammation. Furthermore, the accumulation of noxious substances on the particle surface may cause additional major hazard to living organisms. The consumption of food or drinking water contaminated with microplastics can lead to health risks as a direct consequence, also for humans. Therefore, there is an urgent need for research concerning the development of qualified tools to identify, localize and evaluate microplastics in the environment, since these particles are the sources of the hazard potential.

The aim of the joint project is the development and implementation of new instruments to efficiently identify microplastics in a size up to 250 µm contaminating liquid media like wastewater, surface waters, drinking water or process water. One of these concepts is a novel combination of optical spectroscopy with proceeding flow cytometry. Implementing this procedure, particles are identified in different detection channels to analyse their size and shape, and at multiple wavelengths of light to analyse the type of material by their absorption and refractive index properties. The combination with innovative microfluidics allows to achieve measurements with significantly higher throughput.

These new detection methods allow characterization of microplastic particles with respect to their size and shape as well as the identification of their chemical composition by optical means. In addition, chromatographic methods and mass spectroscopy are used to determine potential adhesion of pollutants to the surface of the plastic particles.

As outlined, it is also important to analyse the uptake and accumulation of microplastics in organisms and the associated toxicity of absorbed pollutants to cells and different organisms. This issue will be addressed using innovative assays such as quantitative label-free digital holographic optical methods.

This collaborative project will make an extraordinary contribution to identifying microplastics more quickly and efficiently in the environment, to analyse toxicity of microparticles and to assess the risk potential to the ecological system, including possible effects on human health.