Chemical Pollutants Sorbed to Ingested Microbeads from Personal Care Products Accumulate in Fish

Environ Sci Technol. 2016 Apr 5;50(7):4037-44. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b06280. Epub 2016 Mar 23.


The prevalence of microplastics (<5 mm) in natural environments has become a widely recognized global problem. Microplastics have been shown to sorb chemical pollutants from their surrounding environment, thus raising concern as to their role in the movement of these pollutants through the food chain. This experiment investigated whether organic pollutants sorbed to microbeads (MBs) from personal care products were assimilated by fish following particle ingestion. Rainbow fish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis) were exposed to MBs with sorbed polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs; BDE-28, -47, -100, -99, -153, -154, -183, 200 ng g(-1); BDE-209, 2000 ng g(-1)) and sampled at 0, 21, 42, and 63 days along with two control treatments (food only and food + clean MBs). Exposed fish had significantly higher Σ8PBDE concentrations than both control treatments after just 21 days, and continued exposure resulted in increased accumulation of the pollutants over the experiment (ca. 115 pg g(-1) ww d(-1)). Lower brominated congeners showed the highest assimilation whereas higher brominated congeners did not appear to transfer, indicating they may be too strongly sorbed to the plastic or unable to be assimilated by the fish due to large molecular size or other factors. Seemingly against this trend, however, BDE-99 did not appear to bioaccumulate in the fish, which may be due to partitioning from the MBs or it being metabolized in vivo. This work provides evidence that MBs from personal care products are capable of transferring sorbed pollutants to fish that ingest them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Fishes / metabolism*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis
  • Household Products / analysis*
  • Microspheres*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical