The effects of microplastics on health

Microplastics, which are found in every environment on earth, including the oceans, Antarctic ice, on land, in the air, and inside vulnerable animal and plant populations, are a growing environmental problem.

The effects of microplastics on health

Image Credit: LECO Corporation

When they proliferate in the environment, microplastics can cause huge ecological damage and can make their way into the food chain, impacting the health of billions of individuals.

Trillions of microplastic particles are found on the surface of global water bodies, and it is estimated that tens of thousands of these particles can be ingested by individuals every day.

The science of microplastics study is still in its infancy, and so far the long-term health impacts of microplastic ingestion on human and animal health is largely unknown. By definition, the scale of the microplastics issue is challenging to ascertain as the particles themselves are difficult to see properly.

That is, unless they are being looked for in a second dimension.

Techniques for identifying single microplastics particles exist and are well-established. Fourier-Transform Infrared (FTIR) and Raman spectroscopy are two such methods. However, these approaches have well-established limitations when it comes to polymer-chemical mixtures, small particle sizes, and analysis time.

Slow, limited techniques can run into problems when trying to analyze a problem of this magnitude. More suitable methods are needed to rapidly analyze microplastics and reduce the limitations of conventional techniques.

Some state-of-the-art techniques are providing enhanced analysis of microplastics. One such method is Gas Chromatography Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (GC-TOFMS.) This technique provides complete information on every compound present in a sample.

When extending the technique in the second dimension (GCxGC TOFMS) and combining it with Thermal Desorption (TD) and pyrolysis, powerful chromatographic separation can be achieved, providing high-quality deconvoluted mass spectral data with minimal sample preparation.

Multiple additives, microplastic degradation products, and various complex chemical mixtures found in the environment can be rapidly resolved, directed, and identified in a single sample analysis.

A proof-of-concept study on how this approach can be used to detect and analyze microplastics in samples was undertaken by LECO Europe, Imperial College, London and Helmholtz Zentrum, Munich. More information on this case study can be found in an article in Chromatography Today here.

About LECO Corporation

In 1936, the Laboratory Equipment Company introduced the first rapid carbon determinator to the American iron and steel industry. Today, 75 years later, LECO is recognized globally as a leader in innovative analytical instrumentation, mass spectrometers, metallography and optical equipment, and consumables.

LECO's broad selection of innovative instrumentation incorporates trendsetting automation, easy-to-use software, and the latest technologies into ergonomic designs. This results in instruments that are fast, accurate, and user-friendly—allowing you to increase productivity by achieving a level of throughput that was once unobtainable for many lab managers.

Our four diverse product lines offer you analytical solutions in five different market areas, meeting objectives for a wide variety of applications and scientific techniques. These market areas are described below.

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Determinators for carbon, sulfur, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen used for metal and inorganic analyses; glow discharge spectrometers for bulk and/or quantitative depth profile analysis.

Organic analysis

Determinators for carbon, sulfur, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen; analyzers for fat, protein, ash/moisture, mercury, and calorific value.

Microstructural analysis

Metallographic sample preparation equipment; macro and microindentation hardness testers; microscopes; image analysis and management systems; optical accessories.

Separation Science (GC-MS and GCxGC)

Nominal-mass and High-resolution Time-of-flight Mass Spectrometers powered by ChromaTOF software. Combined with a full range of optional sample introduction and GCxGC modulation capabilities, LECO instruments reveal new dimensions in GCMS data.


Crucibles, ladles, stopper rods, nozzles, kiln furniture, and pressed refractory shapes for the foundry and investment casting industry.

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Last updated: Mar 10, 2023 at 11:18 AM


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