Occurrence, distribution, and associated pollutants of plastic pellets (nurdles) in coastal areas of South Texas

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Oct 10:842:156826. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.156826. Epub 2022 Jun 21.


Nurdles, also known as plastic resin pellets, are now a major source of plastic pollution on beaches globally, thus it is important to elucidate their weathering patterns and environmental fates as well as the associated pollutants. In this study we collected nurdles from 24 sites in the coastal bend region of south Texas, covering areas from the near shore railway stations to the adjacent bays and barrier islands. The morphologies of nurdles and associated pollutants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury, were investigated. The results showed that the nurdles varied greatly in color, shape, polymer composition, and oxidation degree. More than 80 % of the nurdles were made with polyethylene, and the rest with polypropylene, polyester, polystyrene, polyethylene-vinyl acetate, and polyvinyl chloride based on Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis. PCBs were not detected on nurdles. PAHs and mercury on nurdles were detected at 12 % and 20 % of the sampling sites. The total concentrations of detectable PAHs ranged from 92.59 to 1787.23 ng/g-nurdle, and the detectable mercury concentrations ranged from 1.23 to 22.25 ng/g-nurdle. Although the concentrations of these pollutants were not at the acute toxic effect level, the presence of PAHs and mercury suggested the potential risk of pollutant exposure to marine organisms in ecosystems, given the fact that nurdles are persistent in the environment.

Keywords: Mercury; Microplastics; Nurdles; Polychlorinated biphenyls; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; Weathering.

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Pollutants* / analysis
  • Mercury* / analysis
  • Plastics / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls* / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons* / analysis
  • Polyethylenes / analysis
  • Texas
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Plastics
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Polyethylenes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Mercury