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Analysis of microplastics in surface water

Microplastics are fast becoming an emerging contaminant of concern as we begin to understand how they are dispersed throughout the environment and could possibly affect human health.

The term microplastics was first used to describe microscopic pieces of plastic in marine sediment and water by Thompson et.al. in 2004. The definition has since been refined and while there is no accepted all-inclusive definition Frias et.al. has suggested the following to be used:

"Microplastics are any synthetic solid particle or polymeric matrix, with regular or irregular shape and with size ranging from 1 μm to 5 mm, of either primary or secondary manufacturing origin, which are insoluble in water"


Testing of microplastic

ALS uses several different methods to identify the level of microplastics in water samples

The initial method used by ALS, “Nile Red Method” uses a dye to stain plastic particles. Identification and particle count are performed using image analysis.

This method is typically used to measure particles down to 100 μm in size.

As the method development continues ALS has also implemented the use of FTIR for microplastics analysis. There are two different types of FTIR instrumentation used by environmental laboratories for the purpose of identifying microplastics: AVR-FTIR and imaging μ-FTIR.

ATR-FTIR is typically used to measure particles down to 50 μm in size while imaging μ-FTIR is typically used to measure particles down to 10 μm in size.

microplastics testing

Related services

surface water

General chemistry in surface water

This group of compounds can act as reliable indicators of contamination or disturbances.


Organic compounds in surface water

Undesirable organic compounds should typically not be found in surface water unless there are sources contributing to contamination.

water reservoir

Analysis of metals in surface water

Levels of metals, and in particular heavy metals, is a crucial part when monitoring surface water quality.

Water Reservoir

Microbiology in surface water

High levels of certain microbes in surface water are an indicator of possible drainage from nearby areas.




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