NEW PROJECT: Optimizing Nuclear Techniques to Tackle Microplastic Pollution in Coastal Areas

The IAEA calls on research organizations to join its new Coordinated Research Project (CRP) aimed at developing and testing new technologies to assess the impact of microplastic pollution on coastal and marine sediments. The four-year project, entitled Optimizing Nuclear Techniques to Assess Microplastic Pollution in Coastal Areas, is an activity under NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics)

As plastic production has surged since 1950, plastic pollution poses an increasing threat to ocean health and coastal ecosystems. Microplastics, or plastic that has broken down into very small particles, have been found to accumulate across a variety of marine environments.

The presence of microplastics in the ocean presents many challenges, including impacts on human health and the health of marine organisms after accidental ingestion or exposure to harmful compounds leached from plastic pollution. Analysing the presence of microplastics in marine sediment can provide Member States with tangible evaluations of marine plastic pollution to help sustainably manage marine environments.

The determination of microplastic abundance in conjunction with marine sedimentary records dated using nuclear techniques can accurately reveal the history of plastic contamination in the ocean. Such analyses can also assess the efficacy of remediating efforts.

Through this CRP, the IAEA will support the development, improvement, and application of techniques to assist Member States in assessing marine plastic pollution in the marine environment.

CRP objectives

The primary goal of this CRP is to improve the global understanding of the abundance of plastic pollution in marine sediment using nuclear techniques. The design of harmonized monitoring protocols is necessary to establish a standard technique for the monitoring of concentrations and polymer composition of marine microplastics, especially with regards to comparing spatial and temporal variations.

More specifically, the project will

  • assess extraction methodologies to quantify microplastic presence in marine sediment,
  • assess the role of sediment characteristics in the success of microplastic extraction from marine sediment,
  • determine the required amount of microplastics in marine sediment to obtain reliable data, which also will define the minimum sample size to be collected,
  • assess the degradation of microplastics in marine sediment,
  • define best protocols to assess historical trends of microplastic pollution using sediment dating,
  • explore innovative nuclear and isotopic techniques to assess microplastic pollution in marine sediment,
  • generate protocols and standard operating procedures, and
  • prepare and disseminate research findings and methodologies.

How to join this CRP

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