05 Oct 2022 PROJECT NEWS

Do we inhale increased amounts of micro- and nanoplstics via sea spray aerosols?

Imptox scientists use a special device that mimics the human lung to measure people’s exposure to micro- and nanoplastics via inhaled sea-spray aerosols.  

One of the questions we are investigating in the IMPTOX project is whether plastic contamination in the oceans can lead to increase amounts of plastics inhaled at coastline locations. Since ocean plastic waste can degrade into smaller and smaller particles, these particles may be small enough to be entrapped in the sea spray droplets formed by wave action. When we inhale sea spray, most of it lands in our mouth, nose or throat. However, a fraction of the sea spray aerosol can also enter into the deep lungs. In Imptox we try find out whether the inhalable fraction of sea spray aerosol contains micro- and nanoplastics.

To study this, a group of Imptox scientists led by Prof. Lea Ann Dailey from the University of Vienna has traveled to the northwest tip of the island of Brač in Croatia, where they have set up their aerosol capture device right next to the beach. Over a period of about 3 hours, they pumped the seaside air through the device. The special design of the device mimics the human lung. Larger aerosols deposit in the upper two chambers of the device, which mimics the mouth, nose and throat, while the smaller aerosols are carried with the airstream into the lower chamber, representing the deeper lung. After three hours, they carefully rinsed all parts of the device and then sent the samples to their collaborators for determination of the micro- and nanoplastic content.

We hope that these measurements may help us learn more about the many ways humans are exposed to plastics in the environment.

Click here to find out more about the role of the University of Vienna in the Imptox project.