Universidad Autonoma de Madrid

Project name:
Environmental risk of micro and nanoplastics in wastewater treatment systems and receiving bodies

Project description:
Microplastics have long been recognized as environmental pollutants causing impacts to marine and terrestrial life. Microplastics decompose and break up into smaller plastic debris under the action of microbiological and physicochemical degradation processes leading to nanomaterials. Nanoplastics, like other nanomaterials, have unique properties due to their size, shape and their capacity to interact with other substances due to their large surface area. Nanoplastics can produce physical damage but they may also be transported across cell membranes and persist in the environment due to their relative inertness. The chemical composition of plastics makes them a conveyor for non-polar anthropogenic pollutants supposing an additional risk factor for which very little is known.

This proposal aims at providing the information required to evaluate the risk posed by nanoplastics to freshwater ecosystems with particular attention to the processes of fragmentation and environmental transformation in real world scenarios. We will also study the role of micro and nanoplastics as vectors for other pollutants and, for the case of larger particles, as habitats for microbial communities growing on them as biofilms. In particular, we will investigate the damage to organisms naturally exposed to nanoplastics in the receiving bodies of wastewater discharge. The toxicity of nanoplastics to photosynthetic microorganisms will be combined with protozoa and invertebrates representing three trophic levels. Special attention will be paid to the mechanisms of nanoplastic internalization and to their toxic action by using a battery of fluorochromes as indicators of cytotoxicity, cell viability, oxidative and genotoxic damages.

University of Alcalá, Spain

Participating institutions:

  • Universidad de Alcalá (coordinator)
  • Spanish Astrobiology Center, INTA-CSIC
  • Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC
  • Instituto Español de Oceanografía, IEO
  • Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies, IMDEA-Water
  • National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology, INIA
  • Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • Universidad de La Laguna
  • Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • Universidad de Málaga
  • Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia
  • Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena
  • Universidade de A Coruña
  • Universidade de Vigo

Project name:
Thematic Newtork of Micro- and Nanoplastics in the Environment (EnviroPlaNet)

Project description:
EnviroPlaNet Thematic Network is an interdisciplinary project coordinating fifteen Spanish research teams working on issues related to the contamination by plastic debris. The objective is to improve coordination in critical key aspects such as the definition of sampling procedures, sample analysis or the development of consistent toxicological and ecotoxicological assessment methodologies. The network includes teams with a prolonged expertise in marine research and the damage to wildlife, fisheries and touristic industry caused by the accumulation of plastic debris in the environment. Other groups focus on risks derived from the generation of smaller fragments, namely micro- and nanoplastics, the leaching of plastics additives or the chemical risk caused by the adsorption of hydrophobic pollutants. The dissemination of microorganisms associated to the plastisphere is another hot topic covered by several teams in the Network. In addition, the Network is granting researchers access to techniques available in other institutions, thereby strengthening the competitive position of participating groups and associated partners. Collaboration instruments include an internal communication structure, research staff training activities such as collaboration in scientific campaigns, and the preparation of publishable materials. Attention is paid to promoting the participation of the different groups in national and international networks and consortia. The Network also promotes knowledge transfer to companies and regulators, as well as to NGOs, policy makers and other social agents. Communication and dissemination activities are being carried out through multiple channels including specialized platforms, scientific dissemination events, and the use of social networks.


Published articles (pdf, 76KB)