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Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology

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Science  03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1213-1216
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8828

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  • RE: Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology
    • Alastair Grant, Professor of Ecology, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK

    Effects of microplastic particles: what is “environmentally relevant”?

    The recently published article “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology” by Lönnstedt & Eklöv (Science 03 Jun 2016: Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1213-1216, DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8828), reports adverse effects of 90 µm polystyrene particles on survival, growth and behaviour on fish larvae at concentrations of 10 and 80 particles/L. This is equivalent to 0.5 and 4 particles per fish, although the subset examined microscopically actually had 2.8 and 1.4 times these numbers in their guts. By contrast, previous reports of biological effects of plastics have been at much higher concentrations (42 000 - 10 000 000 particles/L) (1).

    What is causing this toxicity? Effects at such low concentrations could result from ingestion of particles of a precise size that can block fish guts and reduce feeding rates. Previous studies may have overlooked this effect because they used particles that were too large to be ingested or too small to create a blockage in animal’s digestive tracts. This would be an important result. But in the “average” treatment, the majority of fish cannot have ingested any particles (20 fish contained 28 of a total 50 particles present). Exposure also reduces egg hatching, so some of the toxicity must be due to substances leaching from the plastic, as the authors acknowledge. Experiments distinguishing water soluble and par...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology
    • James M Armitage, Research Associate, Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough

    A particle is a particle is a particle?

    I am writing this e-Letter seeking some clarification and additional discussion on the recently published article, “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology” by Lönnstedt & Eklöv (Science 03 Jun 2016: Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1213-1216, DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8828).

    According to the authors, “The abundance of microplastic particles on the Swedish coast is in the range of 150 to 2400 particles/m3 to 68,000 to 102,000 particles/m3, with average values being 7000 to 10,000 plastic particles/m3, based on zooplankton sampling (net mesh size 10 to 300 µm) (13, 14)”. Both of the cited references are from the grey literature but are publicly available on the internet. Upon first reading this research article, I naively assumed that by “environmentally relevant”, the plastic particles used in the experiments conducted by the authors would be similar to environmental conditions not just in number but also with respect to type/composition/origin. As stated in the main text or Supplementary Materials, the plastic particles used by the authors were purchased from Polysciences, Inc., are 90 µm in diameter and appear to be spherical polystyrene beads (see Figure 2I, J of original article). However, this type of particle does not seem to be predominant in the marine environment, judging from the summary data in Norén (1) (ref 13 in original publication)

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
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