A male holds up a square piece of mesh containing fish eggs


Microplastics, extremely small pieces of plastic debris in the environment, are emerging contaminants of global concern that threaten water quality and aquatic life. Microplastics can be up to 5mm long or so small they are not visible to the naked eye, enter freshwater and marine ecosystems from both point and non-point pollution sources, and are increasingly common in sediments of lakes, bays, and impoundments.

Microplastics originate from a wide variety of sources, including plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, and industrial wastewater.  Domestic wastewater is also a primary source of microplastics since wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) do not have technologies that can remove microplastic debris associated with exfoliants and cleaning abrasives or synthetic fibers from clothing.

Nonetheless, little is known about the fate, transport, uptake, and toxicity of microplastics by resident biota (e.g., oysters), or their ultimate ingestion by humans. The CESE Labs utilize instrumentation across multiple divisions to identify and quantify microplastics and their associated trace compounds in water, soil, and tissue samples. To accomplish this, CESE has developed and validated custom methods to support research and monitoring activities.

Research Capabilities

CESE has considerable capacity to support a diversity of research projects related to MPs in a variety of environmental media, including fresh and seawater, sediment, or organisms. Examples of projects that CESE can support include:

  • Measure the amounts and concentrations of MPs in water, sediment, and marine organisms
  • Quantify concentrations of organic and inorganic contaminants that adhere to MPs in receptors
  • Assess the relative contributions of MPs and their associated contaminants from point and nonpoint sources
  • Characterize and identify the types of MPs using FTIR
  • Characterize the plastic additives and related chemicals contained with resins
  • Characterize and quantify additives associated with the plastic products or following their leaching, identification of degradation products and their associated forms.

    Available Instrumentation

    CESE has extensive analytical expertise and advanced instrumentation in the quantification of trace pollutants, both organic and inorganic, associated with MPs.


    Ultra performance liquid chromatograph/ tandem mass spectrometer (UPLC/MS/MS)
    Ultra high-performance liquid chromatograph - time-of-flight high resolution mass spectrometer (UHPLC-QToF)
    Gas chromatograph/tandem mass spectrometer (GC/MS/MS)
    Inductively coupled plasma/mass spectrometer (ICP/MS)
    Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR)