Cadmium, lead and bromine in beached microplastics
Samples of microplastic (n = 924) from two beaches in south west England have been analysed by field-portable-x-ray fluorescence (FP-XRF) spectrometry, configured in a low-density mode and with a small-spot facility, for the heavy metals, Cd and Pb, and the halogen, Br. Primary plastics in the form of pre-production pellets were the principal type of microplastic (>70%) on both beaches, with secondary, irregularly-shaped fragments representing the remainder of samples. Cadmium and Pb were detected in 6.9% and 7.5% of all microplastics, respectively, with concentrations of either metal that exceeded 103 μg g−1 usually encountered in red and yellow pellets or fragments. Respective correlations of Cd and Pb with Se and Cr were attributed to the presence of the coloured, inorganic pigments, cadmium sulphoselenide and lead chromate. Bromine, detected in 10.4% of microplastics and up to concentrations of about 13,000 μg g−1, was mainly encountered in neutrally-coloured pellets. Its strong correlation with Sb, whose oxides are effective fire suppressant synergists, suggests the presence of a variety of brominated flame retardants arising from the recycling of plastics originally used in casings for heat-generating electrical equipment. The maximum bioaccessible concentrations of Cd and Pb, evaluated using a physiological extraction based on the chemical characteristics of the proventriculus-gizzard of the northern fulmar, were about 50 μg g−1 and 8 μg g−1, respectively. These concentrations exceed those estimated for the diet of local seabirds by factors of about 50 and 4, respectively.