JOURNAL ARTICLE

Polystyrene plastic: a source and sink for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the marine environment

Chelsea M Rochman, Carlos Manzano, Brian T Hentschel, Staci L Massey Simonich, Eunha Hoh
Environmental Science & Technology 2013 December 17, 47 (24): 13976-84
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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on virgin polystyrene (PS) and PS marine debris led us to examine PS as a source and sink for PAHs in the marine environment. At two locations in San Diego Bay, we measured sorption of PAHs to PS pellets, sampling at 0, 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. We detected 25 PAHs using a new analytical method with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Several congeners were detected on samples before deployment. After deployment, some concentrations decreased (1,3-dimethylnaphthalene and 2,6-methylnaphthalene), while most increased [2-methylanthracene and all parent PAHs (PPAHs), except fluorene and fluoranthene], suggesting that PS debris is a source and sink for PAHs. When sorbed concentrations of PPAHs on PS are compared to the five most common polymers [polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP)], PS sorbed greater concentrations than PP, PET, and PVC, similar to HDPE and LDPE. Most strikingly, at 0 months, PPAHs on PS ranged from 8 to 200 times greater than on PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, and PP. The combination of greater PAHs in virgin pellets and large sorption suggests that PS may pose a greater risk of exposure to PAHs upon ingestion.

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