THE MICROPLASTIC BUZZ: WHY ARE WE MAKING SO MANY THINGS WRONG?
Institute F.-A. Forel, University of Geneva, Boulevard Carl-Vogt 66, CH-1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland
Microplastics, either purposefully manufactured or formed by fragmentation of discarded ‘end-of-life’ macroplastic items, are accumulating in environmental compartments. As more and more data are collected on microplastics in the environment, discussion of one issue has become indispensable: how reliable are the results in terms of the inherent capabilities and limitations of current methods used?
Plastics in general, and microplastics in particular, have a high profile in the media, actively fed to a high extent by some of the scientists active in the field. At the same time, many others question the methods used, mainly in relation to sampling strategies and statistics associated with the results obtained; they denounce the lack of scientific basis of the results published. Existing results are essentially descriptive and highly dependent on the sampling and methodological procedure chosen. Often, even adequate reporting of basic information such as the meaning of the size parameter measured is lacking. On the whole, analytical chemists, essentially absent in this research field, are probably missing a good opportunity to contribute their expertise to a hot environmental subject.
Montserrat Filella is a chemist and teaches Environmental Chemistry at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Her main research interests focus on the understanding of the physicochemical processes regulating the behaviour of chemical elements in environmental compartments, mainly by combining field and laboratory measurements with physico-chemical calculations. The three main axes of her research concern the study of natural colloids, natural organic matter (quantification and interaction with trace elements) and ‘less-studied’ elements. She is particularly interested in the exploration and use of critical appraisal and evidence-based methods. She is a IUPAC fellow and member of a number of scientific societies. She is currently vice-chair of the UE COST action “Network on technology-critical elements - from environmental processes to human health threats”.