“The best known techniques for detecting plastics are labor-intensive and take a long time. With ICP mass spectrometry you can detect up to a thousand particles of microplastic in one minute. Moreover, such a machine can already be found in many laboratories and steel companies. That makes it feasible, ”says Kristof Tirez
Number, size and distribution of microplastics
Kristof Tirez of the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) explains an existing technique from the steel industry, which could now be used to detect microplastics in the river water. VITO and UGent worked together on this solution. For more than three decades, the steel industry has been using ICP mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to measure dissolved metal concentrations. “We have demonstrated experimentally that the ICP-MS method can also be used to measure concentrations of the smallest microplastic,” says UGent professor Frank Vanhaecke. Kristof Tirez adds: “The method allows, for example, to determine the amount of microplastics in a sample of river water. We can not only determine the number, but also the size and distribution. ”
Roll-out method not yet for tomorrow
The drinking water sector is asking for such technology to be able to filter water better, but it faces a legal hiatus: “There is no legislation on microplastics. That is why water companies are not encouraged to bring on board techniques to purify the water, ”says Kristof Tirez. However, the developed technique is not yet ready for commercial rollout and daily use. “This is only a test phase. Now we mainly want to collect data to expand the research. In the long term, we also want to be able to find nanoplastics smaller than 1 μm, ”concludes Tirez.