Plastic products are widely used in society and their degradation (referred to as microplastics because of their small size) are an increasing cause for societal and scientific concern due to the potential adverse effects on the environment and on human health. Many studies have investigated distribution in water, and the uptake and potential effects of microplastics on a range of organisms. However, environmental microplastics are also present in the air and are inhaled by humans, which may cause adverse effects on the respiratory system. To date, however, there is limited information on the distribution, shape and size of microplastics in environmental air samples. In addition, the potential for uptake by lung tissue, and subsequent adverse effects are largely unknown. In this project we will use state-of-the-science techniques to determine the physical-chemical characteristics of microplastics in outdoor and indoor air samples, as well as their presence in human pulmonary tissues. Fourier-transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy coupled with X-ray dispersive energy spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) will be used to identify and characterise the microplastics. Understanding exposure characteristics, such as concentrations, sizes, morphology, presence of additives and distributions of different polymers are prerequisites to estimate the potential effects associated with human health.
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