Estimating microplastic-bound intake of hydrophobic organic chemicals by fish using measured desorption rates to artificial gut fluid

Hwang Lee, Hyun Jeoung Lee, Jung Hwan Kwon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


One of the most important concerns about marine microplastics is their role in delivery of chemical contaminants to biota. The contribution of microplastic ingestion to the overall uptake of five hydrophobic organic chemicals (HOCs) [α-, β-, and γ-hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), pentachlorobenzene (PeCB), and hexachlorobenzene (HeCB)] by fish is evaluated in this study. Partition coefficients of all five HOCs between surfactant micelles and simulated intestinal fluid (SIF), as well as between protein and SIF, were experimentally determined. Desorption of model HOCs from a polyethylene film into an artificial gut solution was measured to estimate the fraction of HOCs that can be absorbed from microplastics during their gut retention time. Monte-Carlo simulation (n = 100,000) showed that the uptake via microplastic ingestion will be negligible for HCHs as compared to uptake via other exposure routes, water ventilation and food ingestion. On the other hand, microplastic ingestion might increase the total uptake rate of PeCB and HeCB due to their accelerated desorption from microplastics into the artificial gut solution under the model scenario, assuming an extremely high intake of microplastics. However, the steady-state bioaccumulation factor was predicted to decrease with increasing ingestion of microplastics, showing a dilution effect by microplastic ingestion. Results indicate that HOCs that are close to be at phase equilibrium between microplastics and environmental media are not likely to be further accumulated via ingestion of microplastics; this is true even for cases, where ingestion of microplastics contributes significantly to the total uptake of HOCs. Therefore, future studies need to focus on hydrophobic plastic additives that may exist in microplastics at a concentration higher than their equilibrium concentration with water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-170
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Feb 15


  • Additives
  • Bioaccumulation
  • Diffusion
  • Hydrophobic organic chemicals
  • Microplastics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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