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Dr. Simone Lechthaler

2. price of the year 2022

Microplastics in the Environment – Development of a Sample Preparation Method with Further Application and Evaluation in Fluvial and Marine Compartments

Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management, RWTH Aachen University

© Simone Lechthaler Dr. Simone Lechthaler (2. Preis): "Microplastics in the Environment – Development of a Sample Preparation Method with Further Application and Evaluation in Fluvial and Marine Compartments", Institut für Wasserbau und Wasserwirtschaft , RWTH Aachen University
Copyright: Simone Lechthaler

Description of the work:

Microplastics (d < 5 mm) and macroplastics (d ≥ 5 mm) enter the environment anthropogenically, are transported and deposited there, with macroplastics continuously degrading to microplastics. Their presence in the environment is associated with numerous negative consequences. Therefore, in the present work, the holistic source-pathway-receptor model was used for the first time to consider the occurrence in the environment in the overall context.
Preparation is necessary for microplastic detection in environmental samples. Previous methods are time-consuming and use environmentally harmful separation media, which limit efficiency due to density. In this work, an environmentally friendly, efficient, cost-effective, and most importantly, density-independent method using canola oil was developed and validated, and then successfully applied in marine and fluvial environments, improving knowledge of microplastic pollution there.
Sampling of marine water surfaces and sediments in the Atlantic Ocean demonstrated the applicability of the new separation method and for the first time also the microplastic load of the study area, which increased regarding water samples with distance from the coast. As a second application area, fluvial sediments of a regional fluvial system were sampled with a focus on floodplain sediments, which have hardly been considered so far, to analyze transport and deposition behavior of microplastics in depth. For this purpose, depth profiles were established in the floodplains, which showed high microplastic loads.
In addition, microplastics were used for the first time as a marker for determining sedimentation rates. Correlations could be drawn between chemical particle composition and sediment depth: the older the particle was, the deeper was the layer in which it was found. In conclusion, this finding provides the basis for the development of a new and innovative sediment dating method.