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Using pyrolysis GC-MS in combination with multivariate tools to identify and differentiate polymer type and weathering of microplastics


Pyrolysis gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (pyGC-MS) is a promising tool for identifying and quantifying trace amounts of microplastic (MP) in environmental samples. For pristine plastic samples, it has been demonstrated that polymer type and additive chemicals can be elucidated from the obtained pyrograms and their underlying mass spectra. However, the approach requires manual interpretation of the data, which requires a high level of competence and is time-consuming. Pyrograms obtained from environmental samples are typically complicated by the presence of naturally occurring organic compounds and the presence of multiple polymer types. Furthermore, weathering processes such as oxidation and biodegradation may alter the chemical composition of the polymers, especially at the surface.

In the current study, an automated method for MP classification was developed. Pyrograms with associated mass spectra (m/z range 50-600) were obtained for a range of the most common polymer types, as well as for polyethylene and polystyrene microplastic samples subjected to different types of simulated environmental weathering (UV, additive leaching, abrasion, biodegradation) in the laboratory. An untargeted analysis approach was first used to classify pristine and environmental MP samples. Multivariate tools were then applied to classify the samples based on the global pyGC-MS derived composition of the polymers, and to compare pristine materials with samples from the environment. The technique shows promise where manual techniques fail or have difficulty due to the lack of visual resolution of chromatographic peaks with important diagnostic mass spectral features.




  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 257479
  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 268404




  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment
  • Unknown

Presented at

SETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting




13.05.2018 - 17.05.2018





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