Trace elements in microplastics in Cartagena: A hotspot for plastic pollution at the Caribbean

Mar Pollut Bull. 2019 Feb;139:402-411. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.12.016. Epub 2019 Jan 15.


Microplastics are new pollutants considered a source of concern for the oceans worldwide. This research reports the concentrations of trace metals on microplastics collected on beaches from Cartagena, an industrialized city in the Caribbean. Mercury (Hg) was quantified using a Hg analyzer and forty-seven trace elements were assessed by ICP/MS. Most abundant microplastics in beaches were those with the lower degree of surface degradation features (SDF), categorized as white-new polyethylene pellets, followed by secondary microplastics (SM). Greater Hg levels were found in SM, white-degraded (WDP) and black pellets. Trace elements concentrations were linked to the degree of SDF registered in examined pellets, with larger concentrations in WDP. Compared to white-new pellets, Ba, Cr, Rb, Sr, Ce, Zr, Ni, Pb were the most accumulated elements in WDP, as their surface enhance the sorption processes. Microplastic pollution represents a toxicological hazard because its ability to accumulate and transport toxic elements.

Keywords: Caribbean estuaries; Enrichment; Metals; Microplastics degradation; Micropollutants; Polyolefin.

MeSH terms

  • Bathing Beaches
  • Caribbean Region
  • Cities
  • Colombia
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Metals / analysis*
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Polyethylene / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Polyethylene