Microplastic particle versus fiber generation during photo-transformation in simulated seawater

Rahul A. Naik, Lewis Stetson Rowles, Areeb I. Hossain, Megan Yen, Ruba M. Aldossary, Onur G. Apul, Jeremy Conkle, Navid B. Saleh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Microplastic particles and fibers are increasingly being detected in our surface and ground waters as well as within a wide range of aquatic species. Their presence in the environment is largely due to in situ generation from physical and chemical weathering of larger plastics, and thus has left environmental community concerned in the post-banned era of microbead use in personal care products through the passage of Microbead-Free Waters Act in the United States. To improve understanding of secondary microplastic formation, accelerated weathering has been conducted on four materials (high-density polyethylene, high impact polystyrene, nylon 6, and polypropylene) under ultraviolet radiation (equivalent to 44 days in full sun) in simulated seawater. Physical and chemical characterization of the plastics were completed following ultraviolet exposure. This simulated weathering generated microfibers from high-density polyethylene and nylon 6, while high impact polystyrene and polypropylene did not physically degrade. The techniques used were applied to sediment samples containing plastic pellets collected from Cox Creek in Port Comfort, TX (near a large plastics manufacturer), which were purified for analysis and were found to contain microplastics composed of polypropylene and polyethylene. These findings can be used to determine degradation pathways and plastic source tracking, which can facilitate risk assessment and environmental management.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139690
JournalScience of The Total Environment
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-03-11
Acknowledgements: This research is supported by funding from the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Summer Research Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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