Nano-plastics and their analytical characterisation and fate in the marine environment: From source to sea

Sheeana Gangadoo, Stephanie Owen, Piumie Rajapaksha, Katie Plaisted, Samuel Cheeseman, Hajar Haddara, Vi Khanh Truong, Son Tung Ngo, Van V. Vu, Daniel Cozzolino, Aaron Elbourne, Russell Crawford, Kay Latham, James Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


Polymer contamination is a major pollutant in all waterways and a significant concern of the 21st Century, gaining extensive research, media, and public attention. The polymer pollution problem is so vast; plastics are now observed in some of the Earth's most remote regions such as the Mariana trench. These polymers enter the waterways, migrate, breakdown; albeit slowly, and then interact with the environment and the surrounding biodiversity. It is these biodiversity and ecosystem interactions that are causing the most nervousness, where health researchers have demonstrated that plastics have entered the human food chain, also showing that plastics are damaging organisms, animals, and plants. Many researchers have focused on reviewing the macro and micro-forms of these polymer contaminants, demonstrating a lack of scientific data and also a lack of investigation regarding nano-sized polymers. It is these nano-polymers that have the greatest potential to cause the most harm to our oceans, waterways, and wildlife. This review has been especially ruthless in discussing nano-sized polymers, their ability to interact with organisms, and the potential for these nano-polymers to cause environmental damage in the marine environment. This review details the breakdown of macro-, micro-, and nano-polymer contamination, examining the sources, the interactions, and the fates of all of these polymer sizes in the environment. The main focus of this review is to perform a comprehensive examination of the literature of the interaction of nanoplastics with organisms, soils, and waters; followed by the discussion of toxicological issues. A significant focus of the review is also on current analytical characterisation techniques for nanoplastics, which will enable researchers to develop protocols for nanopolymer analysis and enhance understanding of nanoplastics in the marine environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number138792
Number of pages21
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Microplastic
  • Nanoplastic
  • Plastic
  • Plasticizers
  • Pollution
  • Soil
  • Water


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