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PolymPart: Nanoplastics are a class of incredibly small microplastics that can result from microplastic production and/or plastic degradation in the natural environment – often from ultraviolet light. To give you a sense of scale, one micrometer is 1,000 nanometers and one meter is 1 billion nanometers.
Tiny Plastic Pieces (nanoplastics)
Because of their incredibly small size, nanoplastics are a particularly nefarious source of environmental pollution that can be difficult to detect. As a result, many laboratory studies concerning nanoplastic pollution in the oceans often use higher concentrations of nanoplastics than what occurs in the natural environment. In a recent study, authors used a novel technique to trace nanoplastics occurring in environmentally realistic concentrations within a popular seafood item: a shellfish known as a scallop.
“We made nanoparticles of plastic in our laboratories and incorporated a label so that we could trace the particles in the body of the scallop at environmentally relevant concentrations,” says lead researcher Dr. Maya Al Sid Cheikh, post-doctoral fellow at University of Plymouth.
After exposing the scallops to nanoparticles for six hours, the researchers used autoradiography to locate the nanoparticles within the scallops. They found billions of larger nanoparticles (250 nanometers in size) within the scallops’ intestines and smaller nanoparticles (20 nanometers in size) distributed across the scallops’ gills, muscles, and kidneys.
According to Dr. Al Sid Cheikh, “The results of the study show for the first time that nanoparticles can be rapidly taken up by a marine organism, and that in just a few hours they become distributed across most of the major organs.”
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