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Impacts of Marine Litter

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Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00071

Leachate from expanded polystyrene cups is toxic to aquatic invertebrates (Ceriodaphnia dubia)

 Clara Thaysen1, Kathleen Stevack2, Ralph Ruffolo2, David Poirier2,  Hannah De Frond3, Julieta DeVera2,  Grace Sheng2 and  Chelsea M. Rochman1*
  • 1University of Toronto, Canada
  • 2Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Canada
  • 3University of York, United Kingdom

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) products and their associated chemicals (e.g., styrenes) are widespread in the marine environment. As a consequence, bans on their use for single-use packaging materials are being proposed in several municipalities. To better understand how science can inform decision-making, we looked at the available scientific literature about contamination and effects and conducted experiments to measure chemical leachate from polystyrene products and toxicity from the leachate. We conducted leaching experiments with common food matrices (water, soup broth, gravy, black coffee and coffee with cream and sugar) at relevant temperatures (70ºC and 95ºC) that are consumed in or with several polystyrene products (coffee cup lids, polystyrene stir sticks, polystyrene spoons, EPS cups, EPS bowls and EPS takeout containers). We analyzed each sample for styrene, ethylbenzene, toluene, benzene, meta- and para- xylene, isopropylbenzene, and isopropyltoluene – chemicals associated with polystyrene products. To determine whether the leachates are toxic, we conducted chronic toxicity tests, measuring survival and reproductive output in Ceriodaphnia dubia. Toxicity tests included nine treatments: seven concentrations of ethylbenzene, EPS cup leachate and a negative control. Overall, we found that temperature has a significant effect on leaching. We only detected leachates in trials conducted at higher temperature – 95ºC. Ethylbenzene was the only target analyte with final concentrations above the method limit of detection, and was present in the greatest concentrations in EPS and with soup broth. Measurable concentrations of ethylbenzene in the leachate ranged from 1.3 to 3.4 µg/L. In toxicity tests, the calculated LC50 for ethylbenzene was 14 mg/L and the calculated LC20 was 210 µg/L. For the treatment exposed to the EPS cup leachate, mortality was 40% - four times greater than the negative control. Finally, there was no significant difference (p = 0.17) between reproductive output for any treatment with ethylbenzene, but there was a significant reduction (p = 0.01) in reproductive output for the treatment exposed to the EPS leachate compared to the negative control. Thus, although the target analyte ethylbenzene was not toxic at concentrations detected in the leachate, significant adverse effects were detected in the whole EPS cup leachate sample.

Keywords: Polystyrene, leachate, Toxicity, Plastic debris, Ethylbenzene

Received: 06 Dec 2017; Accepted: 14 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Francois Galgani, French Research Institute for exploitation of the Sea (ifremer), France

Reviewed by:

Denis M. Abessa, Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP), Brazil
Kamal Niaz, Facoltà di Bioscienze e tecnologie agro-alimentari e ambientali, Università degli studi di Teramo, Italy  

Copyright: © 2018 Thaysen, Stevack, Ruffolo, Poirier, De Frond, DeVera, Sheng and Rochman. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Chelsea M. Rochman, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada,