Infiltration Behavior of Microplastic Particles with Different Densities, Sizes, and Shapes-From Glass Spheres to Natural Sediments

Waldschläger & Schüttrumpf
July, 2020

In this study, the infiltration behavior of 21 microplastic particles with different densities, diameters, and shapes was investigated using columns of glass spheres with different grain diameters. The glass spheres were considered as an analogy for natural sediment and the results were afterward transferred to natural sediment and compared to fine sediment infiltration. The infiltration depth of the microplastic particles increased with decreasing diameter of the microplastic particles (dMP) and with increasing diameter of the glass spheres (dGS). At ratios of dMP/dGS > 0.32, hardly any infiltration could be observed. In regard to the particle shape, the data shows that spherical particles infiltrate deeper than fragments and fibers. In case of fibers, the fiber diameter, in particular, influences the depth of infiltration, with thinner fiber diameters leading to deeper infiltration depths. Fragments, such as tire abrasion, infiltrated less deeply than spherical particles, probably due to the entanglement of the angular particles in the pores. Finally, based on the experiments, this study provides initial indications of reasonable sampling depths in dependence of the grain sizes of the bottom sediment and the microplastic particles. According to this, microplastics in detectable particle sizes (>100 μm) are only found on the surface of sediment consisting of coarse silt and fine sand, while the particles might infiltrate up to 13 cm into sediment consisting of coarse sand, fine gravel, and medium gravel. A statement of depth-variable microplastic concentrations is therefore mainly useful for these sediment types. Accordingly, in future sediment samples, the grain size distribution of the sediment should always be indicated to better evaluate the detected microplastic concentrations.