Hazard evaluation of plastic mixtures from four Italian subalpine great lakes on the basis of laboratory exposures of zebra mussels
Studies related to the evaluation of plastics in freshwaters have been increasing in recent years because approximately 80% of plastic items found in the sea are from inland waters. Despite the ecological relevance of these surveys, no information has been available until now about the hazard related to plastic mixtures in freshwaters. To fill this knowledge gap, we carried out a study aimed to assess the environmental risk associated with the “cocktail” of plastics and environmental pollutants adsorbed on their surface in one of the larger European freshwater basins. Plastic debris was collected by a manta trawl along one transect each in four of the Italian subalpine great lakes (Lake Maggiore, Como, Iseo and Garda) and administered to zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), a useful freshwater biological model present in all these lakes. We estimated a plastic density from 4908 MPs/km2 (Lake Iseo) to 272,261 MPs/km2 (Lake Maggiore), while the most common polymers found were polyethylene and polypropylene, with percentages varying between 73% and 100%. A biomarkers suite consisting of 10 different endpoints was performed after 7 days of exposure to investigate the molecular and cellular effects of plastics and related adsorbed pollutants. The main results highlighted a diffuse but different toxicity due to plastics for each lake, and there were significant changes in the antioxidant and detoxifying enzyme activities in Lake Maggiore, Iseo and Garda, an increase in protein carbonylation in L. Como, and a cellular viability decrease of approximately 30% for zebra mussels from L. Iseo and Garda. Despite this variability in the endpoints' responses, the application of the biomarker response index showed a similar environmental hazard due to plastics for all the sampled lakes.