Microplastic appraisal of soil, water, ditch sediment and airborne dust: The case of agricultural systems

Esperanza Huerta Lwanga*, Ilse Van Roshum, Davi Munhoz, Ke Meng, Mahrooz Rezaei, Dirk Goossens, Judith Bijsterbosch, Nuno Alexandre, Julia Oosterwijk, Maarten Krol, Piet Peters, Violette Geissen, Coen Ritsema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Although microplastic pollution jeopardizes both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the movement of plastic particles through terrestrial environments is still poorly understood. Agricultural soils exposed to different managements are important sites of storage and dispersal of microplastics. This study aimed to identify the abundance, distribution, and type of microplastics present in agricultural soils, water, airborne dust, and ditch sediments. Soil health was also assessed using soil macroinvertebrate abundance and diversity. Sixteen fields were evaluated, 6 of which had been exposed to more than 5 years of compost application, 5 were exposed to at least 5 years of plastic mulch use, and 5 were not exposed to any specific management (controls) within the last 5 years. We also evaluated the spread of microplastics from the farms into nearby water bodies and airborne dust. We found 11 types of microplastics in soil, among which Light Density Polyethylene (LDPE) and Light Density Polyethylene covered with pro-oxidant additives (PAC) were the most abundant. The highest concentrations of plastics were found in soils exposed to plastic mulch management (128.7 ± 320 MPs.g-1 soil and 224.84 ± 488 MPs.g-1 soil, respectively) and the particles measured from 50 to 150 μm. Nine types of microplastics were found in water, with the highest concentrations observed in systems exposed to compost. Farms applying compost had higher LDPE and PAC concentrations in ditch sediments as compared to control and mulch systems; a significant correlation between soil polypropylene (PP) microplastics with ditch sediment microplastics (r2 0.7 p < 0.05) was found. LDPE, PAC, PE (Polyethylene), and PP were the most abundant microplastics in airborne dust. Soil invertebrates were scarce in the systems using plastic mulch. A cocktail of microplastics was found in all assessed matrices.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120513
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


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