An Experimental Study of Airborne Microplastics in a Controlled Indoor Environment

  • Sophie Ring

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Microplastics are a global problem. In 2015 they were first quantified in air, then later they were found in our homes. Currently, there is little research on the sources of these microplastics, and how many of them are below the size of 10 µm, therefore able to reach the lungs. This research aims to quantify and characterise the microplastics found in an indoor living environment, and to identify ways that people may limit their exposure.
Samples were collected in a specialist house with a controlled environment, using pumps working at the breathing rate of an adult human, for one hour. Four different activities were carried out within the living room, under three different ventilation scenarios. Samples were digested in H2O2, and analysed using a Micro- Raman Spectrometer.
The quantity of microplastics found in the room ranged from 142/m3 to 13304/m3 (mean: 1380/m3). Highest quantities were found were during scenarios that involved exercise, or sitting on the sofas, the former possibly from disturbing particles on the carpet, and the latter probably suspending particles settled on the sofa. Neither natural ventilation, nor the use of a portable air cleaner were found to have significant effect on lowering the numbers of microplastics.
The sizes of particles found ranged from the lower detection limit of 1 µm, to fibres that were 4 mm long. The most common microplastic type found was polystyrene (60%), with the most common shape being fragments (>70%). The majority (72.6%) of particles found had an edge with a size of under 10 µm. These particles have potential to get into the lungs, while the health effects of microplastics on humans is unknown, historically microplastics have been found in lesions in the lungs, and there is potential for chemicals in the plastics to enter the blood stream. Larger particles can enter the human body through hand to mouth ingestion, with potential for falling onto food. The ingestion of microplastics has been found to have a detrimental effect on the health of marine organisms.

Date of Award18 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorBrett Martinson (Supervisor), Fay Couceiro (Supervisor) & John Williams (Supervisor)

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