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Monitoring of Microplastics in the Marine Environment

Changing Directions towards Quality Controlled Tailored Solutions

image of Monitoring of Microplastics in the Marine Environment

The need for harmonized monitoring protocols for marine microplastic has been discussed for many years, but how to reach this goal has not been agreed upon. Important questions addressed when microplastics are monitored are: how to carry out field sampling, how to eliminate other particulate matter from a sample without harming the microplastics, and how to accurately identify the particles, while also preventing and assessing potential sample contamination at each step from sampling to analyses. In the project HARMIC, Nordic scientist with long term experience in microplastic research, applied and evaluated different methods for sampling and sample preparation relevant for the establishment of common guidelines. The outcomes of the studies are discussed from a monitoring perspective, including aspects of quality assurance and quality control.

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Monitoring microplastics – the aim determines the means

Environmental agencies and researchers have expressed the need for standardized methods to monitor microplastics. Due to the multifaceted nature of microplastic pollution in terms of polymer types, sizes and shapes it is, however, reasonable to discuss how strict such a protocol should be. There are also geographical and regional differences in the characteristics of the matrices where the samples are collected. For example, the grain-size of the sediment affects how much fine material will float when the density separation is being carried out, and thus possibly also affects what chemicals should be used for pretreatment. Likewise, the depth where water samples are being collected, or the sampling season can make a crucial difference in the amounts and types of organic material present in the samples–again affecting the selection of the most suitable methods. We would argue that there is room for flexibility in the design of the monitoring protocols, so that they are adapted to the specific study questions as long as the methods live up to a set standard of quality criteria.

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