Resolving the Global and Environmental Issue of Microplastics at Agilent

The topic of microplastic pollution has become a high-priority area of study in recent years due to the increasing prevalence of plastic in our environment, and the limited knowledge we have on its impact to human health.

A critical step to addressing the global issue of plastic particle pollution is the advancement of research relating to the characterization of microplastic particles. By partnering with labs, universities and research facilities, private companies and public institutions, Agilent provides the necessary workflow solutions needed to further research and understanding on this pertinent environmental challenge.

Why is Agilent prioritizing the study of microplastics?

The scale

Plastics are continuing to enter our environment at an alarming rate, with approximately 400 million metric tons of plastic produced annually.5 Microplastics are a direct result of plastic production, and they have become pervasive in our environment, with their presence confirmed in the food and water we consume as well as in the air we breathe.

The issue

Research has indicated that microplastic consumption can be detrimental to animal health, leading to the obstruction of their digestive systems, and the absorption of hazardous environmental contaminants. The full implications of microplastic pollution to human health are currently unknown, but we do know that microplastic particles of sizes ranging from 50 to 500 µm can pass through the body.6 Further research needs to be conducted into whether the absorption of hazardous chemicals within these plastic particles can lead to future health defects as a result of biotoxicity accumulation.

The next step

While scientists are working quickly to learn more about how microplastics may affect the human body, the lack of standard methods for microplastics testing means that comparisons across studies can be problematic. By standardizing microplastic testing methods globally, we will be in a better position to provide accurate data that can be used to inform policy at a global level and fill unmet research gaps.

What are microplastics?

  • Microplastics are miniscule pieces of plastic, which measure between 1 μm to 5 mm in size, (1)approximately the size of a sesame seed. (2)
  • Microplastics can be placed into two categories: primary microplastics, which are very small plastic pieces that have deliberately been manufactured into products (e.g., shower gel, toothpaste) and secondary microplastics, which are small plastics that originate from larger plastics that have since degraded (e.g., paints, abraded tires from driving, textiles).(3)
  • Current research suggests that microplastics will also degrade into smaller particles on a nanoscale, called ‘nanoplastics’, which measure in the range of 1 to 1000 nm.(4)

Addressing the gaps in microplastics research

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a report calling for further research into the impact of microplastics and nanoplastics – it states that “a number of research gaps need to be filled” to assess the true risk of these plastics on our health, as our current data is lacking.7

Agilent is committed to answering this call to action by partnering with organizations and researchers to enable accurate characterization and quantification of microplastics in terms of their chemical identity, size, shape, and total mass. Enabling such research assists in addressing the gaps in knowledge that must be filled in order to tackle the global issue of microplastic pollution, and it will help to inform the development of global standards and regulations for plastic use and pollution.

Agilent’s microplastics testing solutions enabling ‘accuracy, efficiency and productivity’

Agilent is a leader in advancing the study of microplastics across the world, offering a range of instruments, both benchtop and portable handheld to analyze microplastics onsite in laboratories and outdoors in remote environments, ensuring for immediate and real-time results.

Agilent Supplies and Consumables for Successful Microplastics Analysis

Sample Vials and Caps

When it comes to selecting the perfect container for your precious samples, Agilent offers a range of materials inclusive of borosilicate glass limiting metal leeching and a wide selection of polymers limiting extractables.

Analytical Columns for GC

J&W GC columns deliver industry-leading technology with the highest inertness, lowest bleed levels, and tightest column-to- column reproducibility specifications.

Inlet Liners and Seals

Agilent’s Ultra Inert Flow Path deactivation and innovative designs provides maximum inertness to prevent adsorption and ensure accurate sample transfer onto and through the column, and into the detector through a robust deactivated surface.

Fittings and Ferrules

Agilent’s newly-released, collared, self-tightening column nut utilizes patented technology to reduce maintenance time, while providing a secure, leak-free seal through hundreds of temperatures cycles.

Gas Filtration and Purification Recommendations

The Gas Clean purification system delivers clean gases, reducing the risks of column damage, sensitivity loss, and instrument downtime. Inserting a gas clean purification system in the gas line immediately before the instrument inlet greatly reduces the level of impurities, thus improving trace analysis.

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