Microplastics Reduce Short-Term Effects of Environmental Contaminants. Part II: Polyethylene Particles Decrease the Effect of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons on Microorganisms

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Feb 7;15(2):287. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15020287.


Microplastic particles in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are currently discussed as an emerging persistent organic pollutant and as acting as a vector for hydrophobic chemicals. Microplastic particles may ultimately deposit and accumulate in soil as well as marine and freshwater sediments where they can be harmful to organisms. In this study, we tested the sensitivity of natural freshwater sediment bacterial communities (by genetic fingerprint) to exposure to microplastics (polyethylene, 2 and 20 mg/g sediment) and microplastics loaded with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, phenanthrene and anthracene), using a laboratory-based approach. After two weeks of incubation, the bacterial community composition from an unpolluted river section was altered by high concentrations of microplastics, whereas the community downstream of a wastewater treatment plant remained unchanged. Low microplastic concentrations loaded with phenanthrene or anthracene induced a less pronounced response in the sediment communities compared to the same total amount of phenanthrene or anthracene alone. In addition, biodegradation of the PAHs was reduced. This study shows, that microplastic can affect bacterial community composition in unpolluted freshwater sediments. Moreover, the results indicate that microplastics can serve as a vehicle for hydrophobic pollutants but bioavailability of the latter is reduced by the sorption to microplastics.

Keywords: bacteria; freshwater sediment; microplastics; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; polyethylene; vector effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology
  • Germany
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / chemistry
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Polyethylene / analysis
  • Polyethylene / chemistry*
  • Rivers* / chemistry
  • Rivers* / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Polyethylene