The effects of weathering-induced degradation of polymers in the microplastic study involving reduction of organic matter

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The analysis of microplastics in complex environmental samples requires the use of chemicals to reduce the organic matrix. This procedure should be evaluated in terms of the preservation of the microplastic's integrity, typically done with pristine reference microplastics. However, real microplastics are most likely degraded due to weathering, so pristine reference microplastics might not depict the appropriateness of the process. This study performed a purification process using sodium dodecyl sulfate and hydrogen peroxide on sewage sludge containing LLDPE, HDPE, PP, PS, PET, PA66 and SBR samples exposed to simulated environmental weathering. The degradation of the polymers was assessed by analyzing surface morphology, mass variation, and mechanical, thermal and chemical properties. Comparison with pristine polymers revealed that the purification process can lead to more detrimental effects if the polymers are weathered. After the purification process, some important observations were: 1) LLDPE, PP and SBR surfaces had cracks in the weathered samples that were not observed in the pristine samples, 2) weathered LLDPE, PP and PA66 experienced greater mass loss than pristine, 3) the fragmentation propensity of weathered LLDPE, HDPE, PP, PS and SBR increased compared to pristine samples and 4) the main characteristic peaks in FTIR spectrum could be identified and used for chemical identification of most polymers for pristine and weathered samples. Based on the findings of this study, when analyzing the efficiency and adequacy of a purification process with methods based on surface morphology, mass variation and particle counting indicators, it is recommended to consider the differences that potentially arise between pristine and weathered microplastics, especially for polyolefins (PEs and PP).

Original languageEnglish
Article number119669
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Chemical digestion
  • Microplastics
  • Polymer weathering
  • Sewage sludge

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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