Environment and health: not all microplastics are the same

CNR: bacteria that grow on tire microparticles are more dangerous for the environment, those that grow on fragments of plastic bottles are dangerous for humans

[5 Aprile 2022]

Plastics and microplastics are recognized as an emerging pollutant with harmful effects on the health of the environment, humans and aquatic animals. Now, he study “PET particles raise microbiological concerns for human health while microplastic tire wear particles potentially affect ecosystem services in waters”, funded under the AENEAS project by the AXA Research Fund and published in the Hazardous Materials Journal by Maria Belen Sathicq, Raffaella Sabatino, Andrea Di Cesare, Ester Eckert, Diego Fontaneto, Michela Rogora and Gianluca Corno from the Water Research Institute of the Verbania National Research Council (Cnr-Irsa) showed how “Different microplastics can cause a different impact on water bacterial communities”.

Corno explains that “In a system that reproduces an Italian river or lake, we compared the bacterial communities that grow on polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) obtained from a soft drink bottle, very abundant in water, with those which grow on the particles of used tires, almost unheard of due to the fact that they tend not to float and sink very slowly, so we have shown that the former provides shelter for human pathogenic bacteria that can pose an immediate risk for human health, without however favoring their immediate growth.The tire particles, thanks to the constant release of organic matter and nutrients, on the contrary favor the abnormal growth of so-called opportunistic bacteria which, without causing a direct risk for the man, lead to a loss of environmental quality, microbial biodiversity and a consequent impoverishment of ecosystem services off erts”.

Generally, the bacterial communities that grow on microplastics in the form of biofilms are studied without going into the differences related to the type of plastic on which they proliferate, but as a single compartment, the so-called plastisphere. Corno concludes: “This result confronts us, for the first time, with the need to reconsider the methods for analyzing pollution by microplastics and to take into account tire particles, which can have a decisive impact on the quality of aquatic ecosystems in countries like Italy where waterways are particularly exposed to this type of pollution”.

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