Transfer of PCBs from microplastics under simulated gut fluid conditions is biphasic and reversible

Hazimah Mohamed Nor*, A.A. Koelmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The role of plastic as a vector for bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals is central to the risk assessment of microplastic for human health and the environment. However, transfer kinetics of sorbed contaminants from ingested microplastics are poorly understood. We develop and parameterise a chemical exchange model on microplastics in a gut fluid mimic of aquatic biota, and also included food to provide a better representation of contaminant dynamics when plastic and food are ingested, as would occur in nature. The transfer kinetics of 14 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were measured in gut fluid mimic systems under three environmentally relevant exposure scenarios of plastic ingestion by organisms, for low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and were evaluated with the model. Chemical transfer was demonstrated to be biphasic and fully reversible, with fast exchange within hours followed by a slow transfer lasting for weeks to months. In clean gut systems, the bioavailability of plastic-associated PCBs for lugworms and cod ranged from 14-42% and 45-83% respectively. However, in contaminated gut systems, clean microplastic was capable of rapidly extracting (‘cleaning’) PCBs from food inside the gut, thus demonstrating that the effect of microplastic is context dependent. Therefore, chemical contamination and cleaning are likely to occur simultaneously due to the ingestion of microplastic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1874-1883
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2019

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