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I Spy With My Little Eye...

24 Aug | By Biophotonics.World
I Spy With My Little Eye...
Image source: Leibniz-IPHT
By: Sven Döring

Tiny plastic particles are found in the soil, in water and in the air we breathe. How many there are, where they come from, and how they affect our health and the environment is still mostly unknown – because there is a lack of instruments to detect and count micro- and nanoplastics. Together with European partners, Christoph Krafft trains young researchers to become microplastics experts. He explained to us why they are urgently needed 



Mr. Krafft, in the future, the EU wants to monitor how much micro- and nanoplastics is in our drinking water. However, a measuring method has yet to be established for this. Why is this so difficult? 

There are various methods and protocols for detecting microplastics, but none have yet been standardized. It's still a bit like the Wild West, as our research partners at Aalborg University in Denmark, who are among the leading experts in the field of microplastics, recently put it. There are no uniform rules for analysis. 


What kind of rules are these, for example? 

The preparation of the samples,the extraction of the micro- and nanoparticles, is very complex. Water can be filtered, but in the caseof marine sediments, for example, the purification process alone takes three months. And in order to ensure that the sample is not contaminated during preparation – for example by microplastic particles from synthetic clothing or polystyrene from a Petri dish – a blind sample should always be taken. But this is not yet done. There is a lack of comprehensive studies involving several institutes and laboratories that are reproducible and comparable – for example for water from plastic bottles, which is more heavily contaminated than the relatively pure tap water. In general, there is still not enough research on the occurrence of microplastics in the environment and the possible health effects. 


Which technologies canbe used to measure the concentration of micro- and nanoplastics? 

How much microplastics is contained in a sample canbe determined usinggas chromatography and mass spectrometry. However, we don’tget to know the kindof particles, their size,shape and distribution. We have developed and patented amethod to identify upto 4,000 particles perhour using infraredand Raman spectroscopy. And our team ofresearchers from thefield of microfluidicshas designed a chip-based system thatprovides 3D images of the particles. This allows you to determine not only the type of particles, but also their size and shape.


Can the water companies,who will haveto have their water certified, already use these approaches? 

At present, this would require expensive scientific laboratory equipment, for which highly qualified personnel would be needed. Many companies could not afford that. They need robust, easy-to-use and cost-effective equipment whose measurements directly complywith the EU directive. We set the course for the development of these technologies in our project. Eight research partners from seven countries are networking with technology manufacturers and users, such as water treatment companies. 


To what end? 

Our most important aim is to train the experts of tomorrow. In order to research the urgently needed new technologies and methods, we need teams of scientists and engineers who work together across disciplinary boundaries. Such an environment is currently lacking in the EU and worldwide. 


The global production of plastics, that take hundreds of years in order to be biologically degraded, is expected to triple in the next 30 years. What impact will this have on our health and the environment? 

Little is yet known about the potential risks that micro- and nanoplastics pose to us, animals, andthe environment. Wewant to advance this knowledge and help to supplement the limiteddata available. And we want to do so asextensive as possible:While our researchers are working with
technologies to detectplastics, our partnersare investigating theeffects of plastic particles on hormones,for example. To ensurethat our data andresults reach as manypeople as possible andare as effective as possible, we make themfreely available via anOpen-Science platform. 


www.monplas.eu 


Source: Leibniz-IPHT

Area of application: Air and water monitoring

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