Tuesday 20th June 2023


09.30am - 12.20pm


Dr Fay Couceiro - Reader in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Pollution, Faculty of Technology, University of Portsmouth, UK




Microplastics are everywhere in our lives, in the food we eat and the air we breathe. As research on microplastics gathers pace, it is becoming apparent that microplastics may impact human health and we need to understand how to limit our exposure. 

There are currently many projects and policies looking at how to reduce plastic use in packaging but less understanding on how this will impact microplastic numbers.  This session will take a closer look at the challenges and discuss possible solutions. 


  • Methods of analysis - including data collection
  • Citizen science 
  • Microplastics in water, land and air
  • Microplastics human health implications



Dr Fay Couceiro

University of Portsmouth



Dr Ben Williams

Senior Research Fellow, Air Quality Management Resource Centre, University of the West of England


Short Talks:

Dr Sakcham Bairoliya 

Nanyang Technological University

The Big Picture: Microbial interactions within the plastisphere

Delphine Ciréderf Boulant 

Institut de Recherche Dupuy de Lôme (IRDL) UMR CNRS 6027

Assessment of microplastic contamination of organic fertilisers applied to agricultural soils

Nia Jones

Bangor University

Simulating the impact of estuarine fronts on microplastic concentrations in well-mixed estuaries

Pei-Chen Lin & Yin-Yi Chen

Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, National Taiwan University

Assessment of microplastics exposure from oral pathway in
young adults: a pilot study in Taiwan

Tea Break

Short Talks:

Dr Fay Couceiro

University of Portsmouth


Miguel A. Gomez Gonzalez

Diamond Light Source Ltd

Understanding how microplastics can act as transportation vectors of co-existing nano pollutants and their interaction within environmental solutions

Dr Chunlei Fan

Morgan State University

Effect of High-Density Polyethylene Microplastics on Growth and Survival of Eastern Oyster Larvae in the Chesapeake Bay, USA

Dr Judy Lee

Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Surrey

Nano/Microplastic induced membrane fouling and potential mitigation strategies


Title: The Big Picture: Microbial interactions within the plastisphere
Authors: Sakcham Bairoliya1,2, Jonas Koh Zhi Xiang 1, Zin Thida Cho1,2, Bin Cao 1,2
1. Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Biography: Sakcham Bairoliya is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He received his Ph.D. from NTU on the topic of extracellular nucleic acids in drinking water distribution systems. He is currently working on multiple projects aiming to understand biofilm-plastic interactions in the Southeast Asian seas.

In the environment, plastics interact with microorganisms which quickly colonizes their surfaces and form biofilms. These biofilms are referred to as the plastisphere which is distinct from the surrounding microbiome and may harbor organisms with the potential for plastic degradation. Currently, most research is focused on the characterization of the plastisphere based on polymer types and the isolation of putative plastic degrading strains. However, little is known about how these organisms interact within the plastisphere in environmentally relevant conditions. This study aims to address this shortcoming at a very fundamental level by deciphering the possible microbial interactions which are prevalent in the plastisphere. Here we show that Cyanobacteria may play a pivotal role in the establishment and sustenance of the plastisphere. A total of 137 different plastic samples were collected from around the coasts of Singapore and their plastisphere was characterized using 16S and 18S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Based on the sequencing results, we constructed ecological networks for all collected plastics irrespective of their polymer types and sampling location to identify conserved associations in the plastisphere. The networks show that the plastisphere may provide a niche for enhanced interkingdom interactions facilitated by different cyanobacterial species such as Schizothrix_LEGE_07164, Phormidesmis_ANT.LACV5.1 and Synechococcus_PCC-7336. These interactions are strongly enriched on the plastics compared to the surrounding seawater and sediments. While cyanobacteria may not be directly involved in plastic degradation, they may heavily influence the process of plastisphere formation in the marine environment. Clearly understanding the factors involved in plastisphere selection and formation will provide greater control and the possibility of engineering sustainable solutions for the inclusion of biological processes in plastic recycling and resource recovery.

Title: Assessment of microplastic contamination of organic fertilisers applied to agricultural soils
Authors: Delphine Ciréderf Boulant¹, Stéphane Bruzaud¹, Isabelle Deportes², Mikaël Kedzierski¹
1. Institut de Recherche Dupuy de Lôme (IRDL), UMR CNRS 6027, Université Bretagne Sud (UBS), Lorient, France
2. Agence de la Transition Ecologique (ADEME), Angers, France
Biography: Delphine Ciréderf Boulant is a young career study engineer in the laboratory of the Institut de Recherche Dupuy de Lôme (IRDL, UMR CNRS 6027). She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Life and Earth sciences (2018) and a Master's degree in Ecophysiology and Ecotoxicology (2020), and she has expertise in plant and animal biology, regulatory, pollutants and interactions between organisms. After a long-term internship on the occurrence of trace metals and organic pollutants in soils, she started a three-year contract on microplastics in soils, in February 2021. In 2022, she co-authored a review: « Contamination des sols par les plastiques et les microplastiques », published by Techniques de l’ingénieur Editions (literature for technical and scientific professionals). She has also had the opportunity to present her work during national conferences and workshops on microplastic contamination along the land-water-atmosphere continuum.

Organic waste products (e.g. composts, green waste, manure, sewage sludge…) are a relevant substitute to chemical-based fertilisers, providing organic matter to the soils and participating to the circular economy. However, recent scientific papers suggest that plastics may end up in the environment as a result of the application of organic fertilisers (Weithmann et al., 2018). Indeed, organic soil improvers could act like a sink of microplastics (MP), such as packaging residues or agricultural plastics. There are currently standards and laws to ensure the quality of organic fertilisers and to limit the occurrence of inert components, but these are very recent and do not cover small microplastics (less than 2 mm). In order to assess the level of contamination, as well as to identify the polymers involved, a national unprecedent 3-year project was set up. The objectives are many: to determine the matrices acting as sources of MP, to study the diversity and origins of these MP, to estimate the annual flows to agricultural land. Within this framework, the IRDL laboratory (Institut de Recherche Dupuy de Lôme) is responsible for setting up and validating a MP extraction protocol applicable to 21 different complex matrices. At the same time, our team must ensure the integrity of extracted polymers (especially biodegradable ones). Validation tests show no particle loss or clear signs of degradation. Once the method was validated, 83 samples from as many sites in France were processed, of which more than half have already been chemically analysed by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Unpublished results and preliminary recommendations following the tests will be presented and discussed. For the moment, first data indicate contamination of all matrices, at widely varying concentrations. Also, the most represented polymers are those the most commonly found in the environment. These overall results will allow us to identify action levers to limit microplastic pollution in organic fertilisers. 

Title: Simulating the impact of estuarine fronts on microplastic concentrations in well-mixed estuaries
Authors: Nia Jones1, Peter Robins1, Simon Neill1
1. School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Askew St, Menai Bridge LL59 5AB
Biography: Nia Jones is a final-year PhD researcher, specialising in coastal modelling and plastic pollution investigating the processes which govern microplastic movement as it moves from terrestrial to marine environments. Nia is also Research Officer for the NERC-funded Plastic Vectors project investigating controls on dispersal patterns of macroplastics and microplastics, including their interactions with pathogenic microorganisms. With a keen interest in science communication and how best we can communicate key environmental issues to various audiences she is a regular commentator on marine conservation issues on BBC Radio Cymru and have appeared on S4C, BBC Wales and Channel 5 television programmes.

Oceanic and coastal fronts are well-documented as accumulators of microplastic debris; however the impact of estuarine fronts and their associated secondary flows on microplastic concentrations are less well-known. An investigation into the dynamics of microplastic behaviour within estuarine systems will allow for a greater understanding of plastic retention and exportation to coastal and offshore environments. This study combines high resolution modelling of estuarine processes with realistically parameterized microplastic particles to determine local exposure levels, residence times and temporal variability.

We present a validated, three-dimensional, D-Flow Flexible mesh (D-Flow FM) model of a well-mixed estuary (Conwy Estuary, Wales, UK), demonstrating the regular development of an axial convergent front following high tide. A Lagrangian particle tracking model has been applied to simulate the behaviour of microplastic in these frontal systems and analyse how this behaviour may change as a response to various river discharge levels and tidal phases. The results of the ocean model and Lagrangian particle tracking model will be presented.

Understanding how estuarine fronts impact microplastic concentration and dispersal within estuaries will increase the accuracy of modelling and in-situ estuarine microplastic studies alike, helping to quantify the contribution of well-mixed estuaries to regional and global microplastic budgets, and bridging the gap between terrestrial and marine environments.

Title: Understanding how microplastics can act as transportation vectors of co-existing nano pollutants and their interaction within environmental solutions
Authors: Gomez-Gonzalez, M.A1., Da Silva-Ferreira, T.1, Quinn, P.D.1, Parker, J.E.1
1. Diamond Light Source Ltd., Didcot, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Biography: Miguel Gomez-Gonzalez is a Beamline Scientist working on beamline I14 - hard X-ray nanoprobe - at Diamond Light Source synchrotron. He has extensive experience in the development of X-ray fluorescence and phase-contrast imaging techniques, as well as X-ray adsorption spectroscopy for molecular-level speciation of elements, including the spatially resolved (in situ) transformation of nanomaterials.
Miguel is an environmental scientist with an analytical chemistry background, who focused his research on: i) investigating the fate, behaviour, and dissolution kinetics of engineered nanomaterials in freshwater solutions, ii) studying how the microplastics can act as transportation vectors of co-existing nano pollutants, with an interest on their subsequent incorporation to microorganisms and biota, iii) characterising and speciation analysis of toxic elements associated to colloidal vectors in contaminated soils, and iv) synthesising isotopically labelled ZnO nanomaterials, among others.

Plastic pollution has become a pressing environmental issue because the rate of disposable plastic manufacture has overcome our ability to process and recycle it efficiently. Once released to freshwater and seawater, ultraviolet (UV) exposure and mechanical abrasion can delaminate and degrade specific plastics, triggering their fragmentation into small plastic-debris and microplastics (MPs). Likewise, Zinc oxide (ZnO) engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are at the forefront of application-driven nanotechnology because of their advantageous properties, raising concerns about their potential impact as pollutants following their inevitable release into the environment (i.e., ZnO-based sunscreens to avoid direct sun radiation).

The aim of this work is to understand the influence of MPs as vectors for binding ZnO ENMs under relevant environmental conditions. The ENMs can experience both spatial (i.e., aggregation, adsorption) and spectral (i.e., chemical speciation) modifications that can lead to different effects, ultimately affecting their eco-toxicity and hazardousness. Studying how these ENMs transform when aged in freshwater and seawater and their potential adsorption to MPs at the nanoscale, are key for determining their fate and behaviour.

Here, the MPs/ENMs interaction was investigated by: 1) scanning electron microscopy to confirm the ZnO adsorption to polystyrene MPs, 2) X-ray fluorescence and differential phase contrast imaging to unveil the morphology of the ZnO ENMs at the point of adsorption, and 3) multi-energy X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy to gain information about the intermediate Zn-species generated during incubation in environmentally relevant scenarios.

Mixtures of incipient Zn-sulfide (kinetically favoured) and Zn-phosphate in the more accessible sites (thermodynamically preferred) were observed by XANES. In addition, "real life" matrices (including the leaching of commercial sunscreens and cleanser exfoliating products) were evaluated to identify the dynamics of MPs/ENMs naturally released from these commercial products, also showing similar Zn-speciation changes after their ageing and incubation.

It is precisely the complexity of studying MPs interaction with co-contaminants at the point of exposure, which makes difficult to extrapolate conclusions widely applicable. We propose to shed some light into this topic, by studying the polystyrene microplastic ability to sorb aged ZnO nanomaterials at the nanoscale, in relevant freshwater and seawater scenarios.

Title: Effect of High-Density Polyethylene Microplastics on Growth and Survival of Eastern Oyster Larvae in the Chesapeake Bay, USA
Authors: Chunlei Fan, Sulakshana Bhatt, Ming Liu, Brittany-Wolfe Bryant
Biography: Dr Chunlei Fan is a professor and the director of the Bioenvironmental Science PhD Program at Morgan State University. He received a PhD degree in environmental science from the University of Maryland. Dr. Fan is a successful scientist who applied a unique approach to combining field ecological studies with quantitative analyses while engaging in the research of human-ecological interactions in coastal ecosystems. Dr. Fan was recently funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for research on microplastics in the coastal ecosystem.

Microplastics (MPs) are recognized as a ubiquitous environmental contaminant that has contaminated our food and water resources and raised significant concerns for public health. Here we investigated the effect of High-Density Polyethylene Microplastic (HDPE-MPs) 10µm to 30µm size beads on the survival and growth of Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) Larva. The experiments were conducted at the oyster hatchery of Morgan State University Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory during the summer of 2022. The cohort of larvae (9 to 11 days after spawning) was randomly divided into four groups with a density of 2,500 to 5,000 larvae/L. Two groups were exposed to MPs at the level of 10 mg/L while the other two groups serve as a control for the experiment. The growth and survival of the larva were monitored twice a week for 2 Weeks. The preliminary results showed no significant difference in larval survival rate between the two treatments. However, the proportion of the larvae that were ready for metamorphosis in the MP’s treated group is significantly lowered than in the control group. We concluded that even though MPs did not influence the survival of the larva but could significantly slow the growth of the larvae. This research provided us insights on how MPs could influence the development of oyster larvae and consequential restoration of the Eastern Oyster reef at the Chesapeake Bay.

Title: Nano/Microplastic induced membrane fouling and potential mitigation strategies
Authors: Marie Enfrin1,2,3, Ludovic F. Dumee2,4, Judy Lee1
1. University of Surrey, Chemical and Process Engineering, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, United Kingdom
2. Deakin University, Institute for Frontier Materials, Waurn Ponds 3216, Victoria, Australia
3. Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, Civil and Infrastructure Engineering, Melbourne, VIC, 3000, Australia
4. Khalifa University, Department of Chemical Engineering, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Biography: Dr. Judy Lee received her double degree in B.Eng. (Chemical Engineering) and B.Sc (Physics) in 2002 and her PhD in 2006, both from The University of Melbourne, Australia. In 2007 She was awarded the JSPS Fellowship to spend two years in Japan at the AIST. She then returned to the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Melbourne in 2010 as a postdoc for further two years before being awarded the DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) by the Australian Research Council in 2012. In 2015 she took up an academic post at the University of Surrey as a Senior Lecturer, and is currently a Reader and Director of Learning and Teaching for the department. Her research group at Surrey is interested in both fundamental work and applied aspects of ultrasound processing and membrane filtration systems, with a particular interest in treatment of emerging pollutants such pharmaceuticals and nano/microplastics in wastewaters.

Water and wastewater treatment plants process large volumes of influent liquid and at the same time, also discharges large volume of treated effluent into the environment. With the increase in the presence of microplastics found in these treatment plants[1], there are serious concerns as these treatment plants provide drinking water for people and discharge large volume of effluents either into the environment or used as agriculture irrigation. Most water and wastewater treatment plants contain membrane filtration systems that are susceptible to fouling by particulates such as nano/microplastics[1]. Therefore, in order to improve operation of treatment plants and separation of nano/microplastic separation using membranes, a better understanding of nano/microplastics fouling on membrane filtration systems is important. This presentation will show using microplastics sourced from a commercial facial scrub (i) how microplastics can easily fragment into nanoplastics[2] (ii) fouling of ultrafiltration membranes by nano/microplastics[3] and (iii) possible mitigation of the fouling via chemical surface treatment of membranes using plasma technology [4] coupled with physical air scouring [5].


[1] M. Enfrin, L.F. Dumée, J. Lee, Nano/microplastics in water and wastewater treatment processes–origin, impact and potential solutions, Water Res., 161 (2019) 621-638.

[2] M. Enfrin, J. Lee, Y. Gibert, F. Basheer, L. Kong, L.F. Dumée, Release of hazardous nanoplastic contaminants due to microplastics fragmentation under shear stress forces, J. Hazard. Mater., 384 (2020) 121393.

[3] M. Enfrin, J. Lee, P. Le-Clech, L.F. Dumée, Kinetic and mechanistic aspects of ultrafiltration membrane fouling by nano-and microplastics, J. Membr. Sci., 601 (2020) 117890.

[4] M. Enfrin, J. Wang, A. Merenda, L.F. Dumée, J. Lee, Mitigation of membrane fouling by nano/microplastic