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. 2018 Nov;37(11):2776-2796.
doi: 10.1002/etc.4268. Epub 2018 Oct 16.

Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment: Evidence for or Against Adverse Impacts and Major Knowledge Gaps


Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment: Evidence for or Against Adverse Impacts and Major Knowledge Gaps

Emily E Burns et al. Environ Toxicol Chem. .

Erratum in

  • Corrigendum.
    Environ Toxicol Chem. 2019 Mar;38(3):695. doi: 10.1002/etc.4356. Epub 2019 Feb 4. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2019. PMID: 30802350 No abstract available.


There is increasing scientific and public concern over the presence of microplastics in the natural environment. We present the results of a systematic review of the literature to assess the weight of evidence for microplastics causing environmental harm. We conclude that microplastics do occur in surface water and sediments. Fragments and fibers predominate, with beads making up only a small proportion of the detected microplastic types. Concentrations detected are orders of magnitude lower than those reported to affect endpoints such as biochemistry, feeding, reproduction, growth, tissue inflammation and mortality in organisms. The evidence for microplastics acting as a vector for hydrophobic organic compounds to accumulate in organisms is also weak. The available data therefore suggest that these materials are not causing harm to the environment. There is, however, a mismatch between the particle types, size ranges, and concentrations of microplastics used in laboratory tests and those measured in the environment. Select environmental compartments have also received limited attention. There is an urgent need for studies that address this mismatch by performing high quality and more holistic monitoring studies alongside more environmentally realistic effects studies. Only then will we be able to fully characterize risks of microplastics to the environment to support the introduction of regulatory controls that can make a real positive difference to environmental quality. Environ Toxicol Chem 2018;37:2776-2796. © 2018 SETAC.

Keywords: Microplastics; Persistent organic pollutants; Risk; Species sensitivity distribution.

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