Characteristics of microplastic polymer-derived dissolved organic matter and its potential as a disinfection byproduct precursor

Characteristics of microplastic polymer-derived dissolved organic matter and its potential as a disinfection byproduct precursor

Publication Year:
Lee, Yun Kyung; Romera-Castillo, Cristina; Hong, Seongjin; Hur, Jin
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Microplastics (MP) release dissolved organic matter (MP-DOM) into aquatic systems, especially when they degrade due to UV exposure. This study found that UV increases DOM leaching from additive-free plastics. Unlike typical natural DOM, MP-DOM has low molecular weight and can produce toxic trihalomethanes (similar to natural DOM) when chlorinated. This points to a previously overlooked environmental risk from UV-affected microplastics.
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Although there are numerous studies concerning the occurrence of microplastics (MP) in the environment and its impact on the ecosystem, dissolved organic matter (DOM) leached from MP (MP-DOM) has received little attention, and its characteristics have been rarely examined. It is presumed that the DOM leaching from plastics could be accelerated when plastics lost their protective additives during their transport and weathering processes in aquatic systems. In this study, two additive-free MPs (or micro-sized plastic polymers) were leached in artificial freshwater under UV irradiation and dark conditions. The leached DOM was characterized by typical analyses for naturally occurring DOM (N-DOM) such as dissolved organic carbon (DOC), size exclusion chromatography (SEC), and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). The potential to generate trihalomethanes (THMs), a well-known environmental impact of N-DOM, was also explored for the DOM with plastic origins for the first time. The leaching results demonstrated that UV irradiation promoted the leaching of DOM from the plastic polymers with an amount corresponding to ∼3% of the total mass of the polymers. The leached amounts were much greater than those previously reported using commercial plastics which presumably contained protective additives. The SEC results revealed that, different from typical aquatic N-DOM, MP-DOM is mostly composed of low molecular weight fractions <350 Da. For the two polymer types (polyethylene and polypropylene), the MP-DOM exhibited a high potential to form THMs upon chlorination, which was comparable to those of typical aquatic N-DOM. This study highlighted an overlooked contribution of UV irradiation to the DOM leaching from additive-free plastics and the potential risk of MP-DOM to produce toxic disinfection byproducts (DBPs) upon chlorination.

Resource Type

Journal Article

Publication Year



Lee, Yun Kyung; Romera-Castillo, Cristina; Hong, Seongjin; Hur, Jin



Specific Contaminants


University Affiliation

Sejong University, Instituto de Ciencias del Mar (ICM) CSIC, Chungnam National University

Business Connect Takeaways

The objective of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of in-line drinking water chlorination in reducing child diarrhoea in urban Bangladesh. The study was a double-blind, cluster-randomised controlled trial that included baseline data collection, randomisation and intervention delivery, and up to 14 months of follow-up data collection.
The study found that in-line drinking water chlorination was effective in reducing child diarrhoea in urban Bangladesh. The intervention reduced the incidence of diarrhoea by 22% and the prevalence of faecal contamination by 68%. In-line chlorination was also found to be more cost-effective than other household water treatment interventions.
In-line chlorination is a technology that disinfects drinking water without electricity. It involves adding chlorine tablets to a container that is connected to the water supply line. As water flows through the container, it comes into contact with the chlorine tablets and is disinfected. The chlorine tablets dissolve slowly over time, ensuring that the water remains disinfected as it flows through the system.

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