Review of the partitioning of chemicals into different plastics: Consequences for the risk assessment of marine plastic debris

Mar Pollut Bull. 2016 Dec 15;113(1-2):17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.07.021. Epub 2016 Jul 29.


Marine plastic debris are found worldwide in oceans and coastal areas. They degrade only slowly and contain chemicals added during manufacture or absorbed from the seawater. Therefore, they can pose a long-lasting contaminant source and potentially transfer chemicals to marine organisms when ingested. In order to assess their risk, the contaminant concentration in the plastics needs to be estimated and differences understood. We collected from literature plastic water partition coefficients of various organic chemicals for seven plastic types: polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), high-density, low-density and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (LDPE, HDPE, UHMWPE), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Most data was available for PDMS (1060) and LDPE (220), but much less for the remaining plastics (73). Where possible, regression models were developed and the partitioning was compared between the different plastic types. The partitioning of chemicals follows the order of LDPE≈HDPE≥PP>PVC≈PS. Data describing the impact of weathering are urgently needed.

Keywords: Marine plastic debris; Persistent organic pollutants; Plastic water partition coefficients; Polyethylene.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Plastics / chemistry
  • Polyethylenes / analysis
  • Polypropylenes
  • Polystyrenes
  • Risk Assessment
  • Seawater / chemistry*
  • Waste Products / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Plastics
  • Polyethylenes
  • Polypropylenes
  • Polystyrenes
  • Waste Products
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene