June 19, 2024

Oops! Scientists May Be Contaminating Their Own Samples With Microplastics

Collecting water samples from the Hudson River. Credit: Adam Steckley
More than 70% of microplastics found in samples from oceans and rivers might originate from the researchers gathering them.
Are scientists polluting their own samples? Research study shows we may be emitting clouds of microfibers.
A paper by Staffordshire University and Rozalia Project, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, investigates procedural contamination when tasting for microparticles in aquatic environments. The research study reveals that a considerable quantity of microplastics and microfibres from scientists clothes and equipment blends with ecological pollution in the water samples.

Claire Gwinnett, Professor in Forensic and Environmental Science at Staffordshire University, explained: “In the field this can occur due to the vibrant nature of the environment such as wind or weather condition, actions required to get samples and the close-proximity needed for scientists to obtain and secure samples whether in a medium-sized vessel, little boat or tasting from coast. In a mobile laboratory, this frequently occurs due to utilizing little, multi-use spaces and similar requirements for researchers to be in close distance to the samples while processing.”
Data was collected throughout an exploration along the Hudson River from Rozalia Projects 60 oceanographic sailing research study vessel, American Promise. The group tracked contamination by gathering fibers from every possible source of contamination on the vessel including clothes worn by both the science and boat groups, sail tarps and bags, sail and devices control lines along with interior textiles. By doing so, they developed a catalogue to which every fiber and piece discovered in environmental samples was first compared. If there was a match, that specific source of procedural contamination was kept in mind. That microparticle was thought about contamination if there was not a match.
Gathering samples from the Hudson River on the American Promise. Credit: Rachael Z. Miller
The research study discovered that when robust anti-contamination protocols were not used when taking water samples (utilizing a metal container for surface samples and a Niskin bottle for mid-water column samples), 71.4% of the microparticles in the samples were contamination; likewise, when anti-contamination protocols were not utilized when processing water samples (using a vacuum filtration approach), 68.4% of the microparticles in the samples were contamination.
Co-lead author Rachael Z. Miller, Founder of Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, stated: “This is a study that was created to enhance the scientific procedure and has revealed the degree to which our clothing sheds, not just in the washing machine or clothes dryer, but as we wear it and perform ourselves in our daily lives. It appears that we are all Pigpen, but rather of walking around in a cloud of dirt, we may be releasing clouds of microfibres.
” Some take-aways for everyday people from this study are to: take care of the clothing we have– that can be done by adjusting laundry routines to minimize fiber-breakage such as washing in cold water and air drying when possible; bearing in mind the clothes we pick– a growing number of information is coming out about how much different kinds of materials shed, and supporting organizations and brands who know and resolving the problem by working to much better understand our fabrics and who are innovating to make them both more durable and out of products that exert less pressure on our natural world, while still maintaining their capability to safeguard us from the components.”
The research study likewise states approaches inspired by forensic science that could make a 37% reduction in the quantity of procedural contamination incorrectly included to environmental samples throughout the collection stage of a study. This decrease can conserve research study teams a substantial quantity of time by decreasing the variety of microparticles that must be analyzed.
Solutions for future studies include equipping the entire group in the very same low-shed, abnormally colored garments preferably also with uncommon fiber morphology. This would enable quick recognition as contamination. It is important for the entire boat team to be consisted of in these quality assurance considerations given that fibers from the captain and first mate were likewise discovered in samples throughout this study.
The scientists likewise describe a workflow using a polarizing light microscope (PLM) that can conserve research groups both time and money when microparticle, in particular microfibre, identifications must be made. When paired with Easylift ® tape, a development utilized for sampling and fixing microparticles after vacuum filtering, this study discovered that a PLM might produce a high-confidence/correct product identification in 93.3% of the microfibres found in the water samples. PLMs can be acquired for under $4,000 and take a fraction of the time to utilize compared to the other techniques.
Professor Gwinnett included: “Thinking like a forensic researcher during tasting for microplastics has its advantages as this research study has revealed. Forensic scientists are continuously thinking about how they may contaminate samples and how to prevent that. Forensic scientists also acknowledge that it is difficult to have no contamination and instead focus on producing protocols to monitor and minimize.
” By using forensic analysis methods, which aim to totally profile a particulate, including its morphological, optical and chemical qualities then these layers of information permit far more positive conclusions to be made as to whether it is from the environment or from procedural contamination.”
Referral: “Are we contaminating our samples? An initial study to investigate procedural contamination throughout field sampling and processing for anthropogenic and microplastic microparticles” by C. Gwinnett and R. Z. Miller, 9 November 2021, Marine Pollution Bulletin.DOI: 10.1016/ j.marpolbul.2021.113095.

The team tracked contamination by gathering fibres from every possible source of contamination on the vessel consisting of clothing worn by both the science and boat groups, cruise tarps and bags, sail and equipment control lines as well as interior fabrics. By doing so, they developed a brochure to which every fiber and fragment found in ecological samples was first compared. It is important for the whole boat team to be included in these quality control factors to consider because fibers from the captain and very first mate were likewise discovered in samples during this research study.
When combined with Easylift ® tape, a development used for sampling and repairing microparticles after vacuum purification, this research study discovered that a PLM might produce a high-confidence/correct product identification in 93.3% of the microfibres found in the water samples. Forensic researchers are constantly thinking about how they might contaminate samples and how to avoid that.