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Agricultural plastic covers — Source of plastic debris in soil?

  • The use of agricultural plastic covers has become common practice for its agronomic benefits such as improving yields and crop quality, managing harvest times better, and increasing pesticide and water use efficiency. However, plastic covers are suspected of partially breaking down into smaller debris and thereby contributing to soil pollution with microplastics. A better understanding of the sources and fate of plastic debris in terrestrial systems has so far been hindered by the lack of adequate analytical techniques for the mass-based and polymer-selective quantification of plastic debris in soil. The aim of this dissertation was thus to assess, develop, and validate thermoanalytical methods for the mass-based quantification of relevant polymers in and around agricultural fields previously covered with fleeces, perforated foils, and plastic mulches. Thermogravimetry/mass spectrometry (TGA/MS) enabled direct plastic analyses of 50 mg of soil without any sample preparation. With polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as a preliminary model, the method limit of detection (LOD) was 0.7 g kg−1. But the missing chromatographic separation complicated the quantification of polymer mixtures. Therefore, a pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) method was developed that additionally exploited the selective solubility of polymers in specific solvents prior to analysis. By dissolving polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS) in a mixture of 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene and p-xylene after density separation, up to 50 g soil became amenable to routine plastic analysis. Method LODs were 0.7–3.3 mg kg−1, and the recovery of 20 mg kg−1 PE, PP, and PS from a reference loamy sand was 86–105%. In the reference silty clay, however, poor PS recoveries, potentially induced by the additional separation step, suggested a qualitative evaluation of PS. Yet, the new solvent-based Py-GC/MS method enabled a first exploratory screening of plastic-covered soil. It revealed PE, PP, and PS contents above LOD in six of eight fields (6% of all samples). In three fields, PE levels of 3–35 mg kg−1 were associated with the use of 40 μm thin perforated foils. By contrast, 50 μm PE films were not shown to induce plastic levels above LOD. PP and PS contents of 5–19 mg kg−1 were restricted to single observations in four fields and potentially originated from littering. The results suggest that the short-term use of thicker and more durable plastic covers should be preferred to limit plastic emissions and accumulation in soil. By providing mass-based information on the distribution of the three most common plastics in agricultural soil, this work may facilitate comparisons with modeling and effect data and thus contribute to a better risk assessment and regulation of plastics. However, the fate of plastic debris in the terrestrial environment remains incompletely understood and needs to be scrutinized in future, more systematic research. This should include the study of aging processes, the interaction of plastics with other organic and inorganic compounds, and the environmental impact of biodegradable plastics and nanoplastics.

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Metadaten
Author:Zacharias Steinmetz
URN:urn:nbn:de:kola-23141
Referee:Gabriele E. Schaumann, Geert Cornelis, Denise M. Mitrano
Advisor:Gabriele E. Schaumann
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Language:English
Date of completion:2022/05/30
Date of publication:2022/05/31
Publishing institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Universitätsbibliothek
Granting institution:Universität Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Fachbereich 7
Date of final exam:2022/05/13
Release Date:2022/05/31
Tag:Agriculture; FTIR; Microplastics; Plastic mulching; Py-GC/MS
GND Keyword:Bodenchemie; Landwirtschaft; Mikroplastik
Number of pages:xx, 155, XI Seiten
Comment:
Kumulative Dissertation
Institutes:Fachbereich 7
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 54 Chemie / 543 Analytische Chemie
BKL-Classification:43 Umweltforschung, Umweltschutz / 43.12 Umweltchemie
Licence (German):License LogoEs gilt das deutsche Urheberrecht: § 53 UrhG