Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Katherine Mitchell, Flagler College

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Project Title: 

Extracting Microplastics in Archived Sediment Samples from Baltimore Harbor


Microplastic pollution has become a major concern in today’s environmentally aware society. It is now a worldwide problem that has been documented extensively in scientific journal articles and also in the mainstream media. The long-term goal of our study is to analyze different sediment samples taken from Baltimore Harbor to determine the type and amount of microplastics found. Sediments collected in the 1970s and 1980s will be used along with modern samples to determine the extent of microplastic pollution over the years. This paper focuses on developing the best method to extract microplastic particles from the sediments. The samples were first disaggregated using a Calgon solution with a rotary shaker and sonicator. Next, the larger particles were removed using 500 and 106 μm mesh sieves. Dissolved organic matter was removed by adding hydrogen peroxide. Zinc chloride solution was then used in a density separation device to separate the microplastics from the sediment through flotation and filtration. The method was applied to four samples in order to test and, if possible, optimize each individual step.