Recently, the accumulation of plastic debris in the marine environment has become a great concern worldwide. Although plastics are biologically and chemically inert, plastic debris has been suspected of causing adverse effects on ecosystems due to the increase in reactivity by size reduction and/or micropollutants associated with plastics. Because of the high sorption capacity of microplastics toward organic micropollutants, it is suspected that microplastics may play roles in the distribution and fate of micropollutants. In order to quantitatively evaluate the “net flow” of environmental contaminants in water-plastic-organism systems, a fugacity analysis was conducted using concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in open oceans and in polyethylene as a representative material of plastic debris. Ratio of fugacity in polyethylene to that in seawater showed a decreasing trend with increasing partition coefficient between polyethylene and seawater (KPE/sw). This indicates that phase equilibrium between polyethylene and seawater is not attained for higher molecular weight PAHs. Disequilibrium of high molecular weight PAHs suggests that transfer from seawater to plastic debris is thermodynamically driven and the role of plastic debris as a vector to transfer them to living organisms would be minimal. However, additives may slowly migrate from plastics into the environment causing potentially serious effects on ecosystems.
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
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