Microplastics pollution has grown to become a world-wide crisis. The inevitable consequence of dramatically increased plastic use, microscopic plastic particles and fibres contaminate natural marine, terrestrial and atmospheric ecosystems. To date, limited studies conducted in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have detected atmospheric microplastics, but no Canadian data yet exists. No systematic scientific study has characterized the health effects of microplastics in the inhalable and respirable ranges (PM 10 and PM 2.5 microns, respectively). Here we propose a program of NFRF research with the goals of (1) detecting and characterizing inhalable and respirable microplastics in indoor and outdoor air seasonally, and (2) exploring their potential adverse effects on health. To address this research challenge, we will assemble a unique interdisciplinary team forging a close collaborative interaction of leading groups in the fields of Aerobiology, Analytical and Atmospheric Chemistry, System Biology and Immunology.
We will collect seasonal outdoor and indoor aerosol particles with different sizes using Compact Multistage Cascade Impactors (CCI) and characterize microplastics in these samples using advanced methods of micro-Raman Spectroscopy and interferometric backscattering microscopy, backed by high-throughput image processing. With an in-depth understanding of the physical characteristics of inhalable and respirable microplastics including length, diameter, polymer type, surface chemistry, and concentration, we will use metagenomics shotgun sequencing to determine the range of microorganisms carried on the surfaces of microplastics. This work will shed new light on the extent to which microplastics act as a vector for transporting microbes. We will conduct animal studies to investigate the immunological and toxicological consequences of inhalation of these microplastics. As a control, we will prepare samples of known microplastics and shapes ranging from flakes and microbeads to microfibers spiked in sterile air, and compare their health impacts to those determined for environmental samples. Our success in this research will support ongoing national and provincial strategic initiatives underway in Canada, in line with the EU and UN environment programmes. The information and insight we gather will inform internationally integrated strategies for the control and mitigation of microplastics pollution with respect to their impact on health and well-being.