Identification and Quantification of Nanoplastics in Surface Water and Groundwater by Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry

Yanghui Xu, Qin Ou, Meng Jiao, Gang Liu*, Jan Peter Van Der Hoek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Nanoplastics (NPs) are currently considered an environmental pollutant of concern, but the actual extent of NP pollution in environmental water bodies remains unclear and there is not enough quantitative data to conduct proper risk assessments. In this study, a pretreatment method combining ultrafiltration (UF, 100 kDa) with hydrogen peroxide digestion and subsequent detection with pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) was developed and used to identify and quantify six selected NPs in surface water (SW) and groundwater (GW), including poly(vinylchloride) (PVC), poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE), and poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). The results show that the proposed method could detect NPs in environmental water samples. Nearly all selected NPs could be detected in the surface water at all locations, while PVC, PMMA, PS, and PET NPs were frequently below the detection limit in the groundwater. PP (32.9-69.9%) and PE (21.3-44.3%) NPs were the dominant components in both surface water and groundwater, although there were significant differences in the pollution levels attributed to the filtration efficiency of riverbank, with total mass concentrations of 0.283-0.793 μg/L (SW) and 0.021-0.203 μg/L (GW). Overall, this study quantified the NPs in complex aquatic environments for the first time, filling in gaps in our knowledge about NP pollution levels and providing a useful methodology and important reference data for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4988-4997
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • groundwater
  • nanoplastics
  • Py-GC/MS
  • quantification
  • surface water


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