Investigating microplastics in the atmosphere around a point source

Pia Goecke1, Sarmite Kernchen1, Martin G. J. Löder1, Christian Laforsch1, Anke C. Nölscher1
1 University of Bayreuth

P 5.1 in Open Poster Session

Introduction/Material & Methods

The plastic production has increased exponentially in the last 70 years. The same is seen for plastic waste at the macro, micro, and nano scales, which now pollute a wide range of different environments. Microplastic (MP) contamination of aquatic systems and its adverse effects on aquatic invertebrates have been extensively studied. However, the atmospheric pollution, transport and deposition of MPs are still poorly understood.

Airborne pollutant scavenging by snowflakes is a means of atmospheric self-cleansing. Preliminary studies in 2018 showed different concentrations of MPs in snow samples at different locations in and around Bayreuth. Hence, we took and analysed additional samples in 2021 to assess MP contamination in air in rural and industrial sites and point to potential airborne MP sources. To measure the deposition of MPs, we took snow samples at various locations in Bayreuth: a highly industrial site, near a sewage plant, the BayCEER-building in St. Georgen, and the rural site Waldstein in the “Fichtelgebirge”. Samples were processed by novel established methods for MP extraction and analysed by micro-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FPA-μFT-IR). This gave us information about the distribution of MP particles, their location, size, shape, and chemical assignment.


This study addresses the following scientific questions: (I) Can we find MPs in the snow? (II) Do we find relatively lower MP-concentration in remote areas like Waldstein compared to the urban Bayreuth sites? (III) How much influence does the proximity of potential sources have on the amount of MP in the snow? (IV) Which process is more effective in scavenging MPs from the air: wet deposition or dry deposition? (V) Is the proportion of fibrous particles deposited near the sewage plant significantly higher than at the other sites?

The results of this study support the understanding of atmospheric transport and deposition of MPs by snowflakes.

Keywords: air pollution, airborne microplastics, microplastic sources, atmospheric deposition, snow samples, µFT-IR spectroscopy