Polystyrene plastic: a source and sink for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the marine environment

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  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on virgin polystyrene (PS) and PS marine debris led us to examine PS as a source and sink for PAHs in the marine environment. At two locations in San Diego Bay, we measured sorption of PAHs to PS pellets, sampling at 0, 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. We detected 25 PAHs using a new analytical method with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Several congeners were detected on samples before deployment. After deployment, some concentrations decreased (1,3-dimethylnaphthalene and 2,6-methylnaphthalene) while most increased (2-methylanthracene and all parent PAHs (PPAHs) except fluorene and fluoranthene), suggesting PS debris is a source and sink for PAHs. When comparing sorbed concentrations of PPAHs on PS to the five most common polymers (polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP)), PS sorbed greater concentrations than PP, PET and PVC, similar to HDPE and LDPE. Most strikingly, at 0 months, PPAHs on PS ranged from 8-200 times greater than on PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, and PP. The combination of greater PAHs in virgin pellets and large sorption suggests that PS may pose a greater risk of exposure to PAHs upon ingestion.
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  • Rochman, C. M., Manzano, C., Hentschel, B. T., Simonich, S. L. M., & Hoh, E. (2013). Polystyrene Plastic: A Source and Sink for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in the Marine Environment. Environmental Science & Technology, 47(24), 13976-13984. doi:10.1021/es403605f
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  • 47
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  • 24
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  • This material is based on work supported by SoCal SETAC, PADI Foundation, SDSU Division of Research Affairs, National Science Foundation Grant No. 0548190, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (Grant No. 2010101195). This publication was made possible in part by grant number P30ES00210 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), NIH and NIEHS Grant P42 ES016465, and the National Science Foundation (ATM-0841165).
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