Microplastics and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a dangerous tandem of pollutants plaguing our aquatic ecosystems.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter. They come from a variety of sources, including the breakdown of larger plastic items, synthetic clothing, and personal care products.
PFAS, on the other hand, are a group of synthetic chemicals used as monomers or additives in the production of non-toxic and non-hazardous fluoropolymers. These fluoropolymers find their way into a wide range of products, from nonstick cookware to waterproof clothing, medical devices, batteries and electric motors.
Both microplastics and PFAS take a heavy toll on aquatic life. Microplastics can be accidentally ingested by marine life, causing digestive tract blockages and a litany of related health complications. Meanwhile, certain PFAS compounds are remarkably persistent and bioaccumulative, meaning they build up in animals' bodies over time. These compounds have been irrefutably linked to a range of adverse health effects.
A recent scientific study examined the synergistic toxicity of microplastics and PFASs on Daphnia magna, a tiny crustacean often found on the menu of fish and other aquatic animals. Surprisingly, the study revealed a spectrum of combined toxic effects depending on the concentration ratio of these two contaminants. In some cases, the combined toxicity exceeded the sum of the individual toxicities, a phenomenon known as synergy. Conversely, at other concentration ratios, the combined toxicity was less than the sum of the individual toxicities, a phenomenon known as antagonism.
Crucially, the study highlighted the critical role of intestinal blockage in Daphnia magna. Both microplastics and PFASs can accumulate in the gut, leading to blockages that disrupt proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
These findings have profound implications for the management of aquatic ecosystems. They suggest that the combined threat posed by microplastics and PFASs may have been systematically underestimated. They also underscore the need to consider the collective impact of multiple contaminants when assessing the health of aquatic environments.
Enter bioremediation, a promising avenue for cost-effective and sustainable reduction of PFAS and microplastic contamination in waterways. Bioremediation techniques have demonstrated the potential to degrade PFOS and PFOA, two of the most prevalent PFAS contaminants, into benign compounds. In addition, bioremediation holds the promise of reducing the abundance of microplastics, thereby improving water quality and protecting both human health and wildlife. Although still in its infancy, bioremediation is a potentially invaluable tool in our arsenal against PFAS and microplastic pollution.
We urge you to support Aspidia's pioneering efforts in PFAS and microplastic bioremediation research. Together, we can lead the way to healthier aquatic ecosystems and a brighter, more sustainable future.
Support our project with a donation and contact us if you would like to learn more.
Chen et al.
Combined toxicity of polystyrene microplastics and ammonium perfluorooctanoate to Daphnia magna: Mediation of intestinal blockage. Water Res. 2022;219:118536. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2022.118536.