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Particle Size and Pre-Treatment Effects on Polystyrene Microplastic Settlement in Water: Implications for Environmental Behavior and Ecotoxicological Tests

Eitzen, Lars; Ruhl, Aki Sebastian; Jekel, Martin

FG Wasserreinhaltung

Microplastic (MP) particle dispersions used in many recent publications covering adsorption or toxicological studies are not characterized very well. The size distribution of polydisperse dispersions is highly dependent on the agglomeration processes and influences experimental outcomes. Therefore, pre-treatment is a prerequisite for reproducibility. In this study, manual/automated shaking and ultrasonic treatment as different mechanical dispersion techniques were applied for the dispersion of cryomilled polystyrene (PS). Particle numbers and size distribution of dispersions were analyzed by a light extinction particle counter and the dispersion efficiency (ED) as the ratio between calculated volume and theoretical volume of suspended particles was used to compare techniques. PS dispersions (20 mg/L) treated for 90 min in an ultrasonic bath (120 W, 35 kHz) were evenly dispersed with a particle concentration of 140,000 particles/mL and a high reproducibility (rel. SD = 2.1%, n = 6). Automated horizontal shaking for 754 h (250 rpm) reached similar particle numbers (122,000/mL) but with a lower reproducibility (rel. SD = 9.1%, n = 6). Manual shaking by hand dispersed the lowest number of particles (55,000/mL) and was therefore found to be unsuitable to counteract homo-agglomeration. ED was calculated as 127%, 104% and 69% for ultrasonic treatment, horizontal shaking and manual shaking, respectively, showing an overestimation of volume assuming spherical shaped particles.