On September 9, 2021, the European Commission’s (EC’s) Joint Research Centre (JRC) symposium on the “Challenges of microplastic analysis – Bridging state of the art and policy needs” was held online summarizing four inter-laboratory comparison studies on microplastic analysis and putting them into perspective with policy needs.
At present, a variety of devices and techniques are available to analyze the occurrence and impacts of microplastics but each method differs in performance and thus, also in the data generated. Harmonized and standardized methods and quality assurance tools are still missing. By bringing together microplastic analysis experts, public authorities, and legislators, the symposium aimed to identify “practical approaches for microplastic monitoring” in water and other matrices.
The symposium was kicked off by Andrea Held and Susanne Belz from the JRC presenting the design and outcome of an inter-laboratory comparison study on polyethylene terephthalate (PET) microplastics in water that the JRC organized with the German Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing (BAM). Launched in February 2020 (FPF reported), the study aimed to analyze “the state of the art of microplastic analysis and to support the development of microplastic reference materials.” The final report, published on September 1, 2021, summarizes the study comprising data of 98 laboratories worldwide from academia (37%), industry (24%), and governments (27%) and gives a comprehensive overview of the current methods applied for microplastics analysis. Held and Belz highlighted in their presentation that a large range of methods is currently applied (16 in their study), each having its strengths and weaknesses such that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method. Besides, independent of the analysis technique applied, inter-laboratory comparability seemed to be lacking, emphasizing the need for harmonization.
Subsequently, the results of three further inter-laboratory comparison studies were presented. Bert van Bavel from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) summarized two rounds of the Quasimeme intercomparison study covering several plastic polymer types and their detection in different matrices, including biological samples. The results of the first round were published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of The Total Environment on June 10, 2021. Korinna Altmann (BAM) outlined the results of a comparative test performed within the framework of PlastikNet looking at virgin and aged plastic particles and comparing different thermoanalytical and spectroscopic methods for microplastic mass and particle determination, respectively. Based on their study outcomes, the speakers agreed that improvement and harmonization are needed and that interlaboratory studies can help in that process.
California will start monitoring microplastics in drinking water in 2022, making it necessary to have validated, practical methods, as well as trained laboratories in the state. In this context, Charles Wong from the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), an aquatic sciences research institute, summarized the results of an inter-laboratory comparison aiming to develop and determine appropriate monitoring methods. Wong emphasized the importance of properly training laboratories in microplastic recovery and detection since they observed strong improvement with experience. Scott Coffin from the State Water Resources Control Board further specified the process they followed to identify methods to be used for microplastic monitoring and to derive a safe limit of microplastics in drinking water. As part of this process, the Board has developed California’s definition of “microplastics in drinking water,” published June 2020 (FPF reported).
In the last talk of the online symposium, Bert Leemans of the EC Directorate-General for Environment gave the EC’s perspective on policy needs for microplastic measurements after having presented ECs’ strategies on microplastics with relation to (1) prevention, (2) minimization, and control, as well as on (3) elimination and remediation.
Similar to JRC’s symposium, in May the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) held an online colloquium that aimed to “facilitate the assessment of the risks of micro and nanoplastics to human health and facilitate the translation of new data into policy decisions” by bringing together researchers, risk assessors, and risk managers. In three sessions, one also on analytical methods, and the others on exposure and hazard identification and characterization, “the participants discussed synergies, collaboration opportunities” and research priorities. The event report on the EFSA Scientific Colloquium 25 was published in July 2021.
Five Horizon 2020 research projects are now working to better understand micro- and nanoplastic impacts on human health. The Food Packaging Forum is a partner of one of the projects, AURORA, which will develop new low- and high-throughput methods for both in-depth characterization as well as large-scale health studies of micro- and nanoplastics (FPF reported).
Belz, S. (2021). “Current status of the quantification of microplastics in water – Results of a JRC/BAM inter-laboratory comparison study on PET in water.” Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. DOI: 10.2760/27641
Van Mourik, L., M. (2021). “Results of WEPAL-QUASIMEME/NORMANs first global interlaboratory study on microplastics reveal urgent need for harmonization.” Science of The Total Environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.145071
EFSA (2021). “EFSA Scientific Colloquium 25 – A coordinated approach to assess the human health risks of micro- and nanoplastics in food.” DOI: 10.2903/sp.efsa.2021.EN-6815
EU Science Hub (2021). “Symposium ‘Challenges of microplastic analysis – Bridging state of the art and policy needs’.”