Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Shams, Mehnaz


Plastic wastes released in the environment can produce microplastics (MPs, Size < 5 mm) and nanoscale plastics (NPs, Size < 100 nm) due to the environmental weathering processes. The presence of the MPs and NPs have been found worldwide in different aquatic and terrestrial environments. These tiny plastics have detrimental health impacts when they are ingested or inhaled by aquatic organisms as well as human beings. However, their occurrences including identification and quantification in the environment are still a great challenge. Particularly, quantification for NPs is a challenge, as there is no standard technique available yet that can count the NPs effectively. Therefore, this thesis was focused on two important aspects related to microplastics (MPs) and nanoscale plastics (NPs). Firstly, assess the source of MPs or NPs release and secondly, NPs quantification. Microfibers (MFs) are one of the most abundant portions of MPs in the aquatic environment, which are shed during the washing and drying of fabrics. Hence, in the first area of the study, the release pattern of MPs, in the form of acrylic MFs from portable washer and dryer during fabric washing and drying under different conditions were investigated. Additionally, the subsequent degradations behavior of these released MFs under ultraviolet light (UV-A) irradiation were explored. The results indicated that the MFs were released almost 2 times higher when the fabrics were washed for 60 min compared to 30 min due to higher mechanical stresses. In addition, MFs released were increased by 1.4 times higher when the fabrics were dried for 60 min compared to 30 min due to longer rotational forces on the fabrics. The use of detergent during washing promoted 2.7 times more MF release compared to without detergent. Moreover, MFs were released approximately 1.8 times higher from washing when washed with 40°C of water than with 20°C of water. However, subsequent washing cycles showed decreasing patterns of MF releases during washing and drying, approximately 45% less and 67% less, respectively in the 7th wash compared to the 1st wash as the fabrics approach a plateau. The released acrylic MFs were analyzed after their exposure to UV-A irradiation in the aquatic environment from 0 day to 182 days. After 182 days of UV-A irradiation, released acrylic MFs showed significant changes in the surface morphology in the form of cracks, holes, and flakes determined by scanning electron microscope (SEM). The formations of cracks, cavities, and flakes in the MF’s surface were proportional to the period of UV-A exposure. Dimensions of the formed holes and cracks on the UV-A degraded MFs suggested that MFs can turn into NPs in presence of water and UV-A exposure in the environment. Hence, a robust analytical tool must be optimized to detect these tiny degraded NPs in the aquatic environment. This brings to the second area of the study which aimed to optimize and validate a method to detect NPs through coating with synthesized gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) by Single Particle Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (SP-ICP-MS). This study successfully detected the polystyrene nanoscale plastics (PS NPs, size 61 nm) by particle-by-particle analysis in single quadrupole-based SP-ICP-MS and the detection limit of particle number concentration was reached up to 8.64 × 10^7 particles/L. PS NPs were selected as a model nanoscale plastic as it is one of the most abundant plastics in the environment. The method was applied to PS NPs in deionized (DI) water which achieved a good amount of PS NP recoveries by up to 98%. This analytical technique can be further optimized and might be helpful for analyzing NPs in any environmental samples to determine their occurrences and concentrations.

Available for download on Wednesday, July 19, 2023




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