EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Analytical methods for detection and size determination of micro- and nanoscale plastic debris in water

Milica Velimirovic1,2, Jef De Wit2, Griet Jacobs2, Eduardo Bolea-Fernandez1, Ana Rua-Ibarz1, Stefan Voorspoels2, Kristof Tirez2, and Frank Vanhaecke1
Milica Velimirovic et al.
  • 1Ghent University, Chemistry, Ghent, Belgium (
  • 2Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Boeretang 200, 2400 Mol, Belgium

Development of analytical methods for the characterization (particle size determination, chemical identification, and quantification) of the low µm-range microplastic (MPs; 1-10 µm) and nanoscale plastic (NPs; 1-1000 nm) debris in environmental matrices is a quickly emerging scientific field and has gained considerable attention, not only within the scientific community, but also on the part of policy makers and the general public. However, due to the limited sensitivity of the current state of the art monitoring techniques, detection of MPs and NPs in water is one of the biggest challenges for their monitoring, source identification and, ultimately, risk assessment.

As it is evident that no single method will provide all the information required for a complete characterization of MPs and NPs in water, the present work is aimed to give an overview of different complementary analytical methodologies showing considerable promise for the particle size determination, chemical identification, and quantification of MPs and NPs [1]. In addition, results of three case studies will be included to adequately address the smallest fractions in plastic debris size determination, making such approaches worthwhile to be further explored.

The first case study offers a novel method based on the use of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry operated in single-event mode and relies on our previous work where for the first time ever single particle inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry based on carbon monitoring was successfully used for the detection, particle size characterization and particle number concentration of polystyrene MPs [2]. The second case study further explore light scattering methods, including nanoparticle tracking analysis or dynamic light scattering, for MPs and NPs particle size distribution and particle number in water. Finally, the capabilities of size exclusion chromatography in combination with online detection techniques such as UV-visible absorption spectrometry will be presented for the particle size determination of smallest fraction of NPs (1-100 nm).


M.V. is a senior postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO 12ZD120N).



[1] Velimirovic M., Tirez K., Voorspoels S., Vanhaecke F. (2020) Recent developments in mass spectrometry for the characterization of micro- and nanoscale plastic debris in the environment, Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 1-9.

[2] Bolea-Fernandez E., Rua-Ibarz A., Velimirovic M., Tirez K., and Vanhaecke F. (2020) Detection of microplastics using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) operated in single-event mode. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 35, 455-460.

How to cite: Velimirovic, M., De Wit, J., Jacobs, G., Bolea-Fernandez, E., Rua-Ibarz, A., Voorspoels, S., Tirez, K., and Vanhaecke, F.: Analytical methods for detection and size determination of micro- and nanoscale plastic debris in water, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-2533,, 2021.


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