Aging of microplastics increases their adsorption affinity towards organic contaminants

Kartik Bhagat, Ana C. Barrios, Kimya Rajwade, Abhishek Kumar, Jay Oswald, Onur Apul, François Perreault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


When released in the environment, microplastics undergo surface weathering due to mechanical abrasion and ultraviolet exposure. In this study, the adsorption of two model contaminants, phenanthrene and methylene blue, by weathered high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PPE) was evaluated to understand how the microplastics’ aging influences contaminant adsorption. Microplastics were aged through an accelerated weathering process using ultraviolet exposure with or without hydrogen peroxide. Adsorption isotherms were conducted for both contaminants on pristine and aged microplastics. The adsorption of organic contaminants was higher on aged microplastics than on pristine ones, with methylene blue having the highest affinity increase with aging at 4.7-fold and phenanthrene having a 1.9-fold increase compared to the pristine particles. To understand the mechanisms involved with higher adsorption of contaminants by aged microplastics, changes in the specific surface area and surface chemistry of aged microplastics were characterized by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy, zeta potential, X-ray tomography, and Brunauer–Emmett–Teller krypton adsorption analyses. The results of this study show that oxidation of microplastics can enhance the adsorption of organic contaminants, which may increase their role as vectors of contaminants in the aquatic food chain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number134238
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Adsorption
  • Carbonyl index
  • Organic contaminant
  • Surface weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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