Synthesis of 14C-labelled polystyrene nanoplastics for environmental studies

Maya Al-Sid-Cheikh*, Steven J. Rowland, Ralf Kaegi, Theodore B. Henry, Marc André Cormier, Richard C. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


Available analytical methods cannot detect nanoplastics at environmentally realistic concentrations in complex matrices such as biological tissues. Here, we describe a one-step polymerization method, allowing direct radiolabeling of a sulfonate end-capped nano-sized polystyrene (nPS; proposed as a model nanoplastic particle representing negatively charged nanoplastics). The method, which produces nanoplastics trackable in simulated environmental settings which have already been used to investigate the behavior of a nanoplastic in vivo in a bivalve mollusc, was developed, optimized and successfully applied to synthesis of 14C-labeled nPS of different sizes. In addition to a description of the method of synthesis, we describe the details for quantification, mass balance and recovery of the labelled particles from complex matrices offered by the radiolabelling approach. The radiolabeling approach described here, coupled to use of a highly sensitive autoradiographic method for monitoring nanoplastic body burden and distributions, may provide a valuable procedure for investigating the environmental pathways followed by negatively charged nanoplastics at low predicted environmental concentrations. Whether the behaviour of the synthetic nPS manufactured here, synthesised using a very common inititator, represents that of manufactured nPS found in the environment, remains to be seen.

Original languageEnglish
Article number97
JournalCommunications Materials
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • Mechanics of Materials


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