A probabilistic risk assessment of microplastics in soil ecosystems

Plastics have a variety of applications due to their versatility, relative cost, and strength-to-weight ratio, and resistance to degradation. As a result, plastic waste can be found in all corners of the Earth. A class of plastic contaminants that have received increasing attention in terms of their potential impact on ecosystems is microplastics (≤5 mm). The greatest attention to date has been on their potential effect in marine ecosystems. However, a growing number of studies are examining their potential impact on soil ecosystems. The data reported in the literature on the environmentally-relevant concentrations of microplastics in soils and the concentration of microplastics that causes an adverse effect in soil biota were used to perform a probabilistic risk assessment of microplastics to soil biota. An environmental exposure distribution was constructed from the concentrations of microplastics reported in soil in the literature. Species sensitivity distributions were constructed using concentration of microplastics in soil that had no adverse effect on soil species (NOEC) or the lowest concentrations that had an adverse effect on soil species (LOEC) reported in the literature. The 95th centile of the environmental exposure distribution (8147 microplastic particles per gram of soil) was greater than 22 and 28% of the species sensitivity distribution constructed using NOECs and LOECs, respectively. The assessment concluded that environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics reported in the literature could pose a considerable risk to soil biota. It is also important to note that due to the continued production of large quantities of plastic and the persistence of microplastics in the environment, environmentally-relevant concentrations of microplastics in soil are likely to only rise.

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