SubµTrack: Innovative Analysis Methods for Submicroplastic

The Chair of Urban Water Systems Engineering coordinates a new research project on microplastic funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Due to the lack of analytical methods and toxicological data, currently it is not possible to assess especially small microparticles (submicroparticles < 1 µm). Due to their possible cell permeability and their comparatively larger specific surface area, however, these submicroparticles have potentially higher (eco-)toxicological relevance. Innovative and networked approaches are needed to gain knowledge about the abundance and effects of these particles in the environment.

The new research project will therefore develop innovative analytical and evaluation methods that allow the analysis of plastic particles of various sizes in different samples and processes and the assessment of their toxicity. In addition to the coordinating Chair of Urban Water Systems Engineering (Prof. J. Drewes), from TUM the Chair of Analytical Chemistry and Water Chemistry (Prof. M. Elsner), the Chair of Aquatic Systems Biology (Prof. J. Geist), the Chair of Animal Physiology and Immunology (Prof. M. Pfaffl) and the Professorship of Science and Technology Policy (Prof. R. Müller) are involved. Other partners are the Institute of Groundwater Ecology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Institut für Energie- und Umwelttechnik e.V. (IUTA) in Duisburg, the Bavarian Environment Agency and the German Federal Environmental Agency. Postnova Analytics GmbH and BS-Partikel GmbH are involved as industrial partners.

One focus of the Chair of Urban Water System Engineering in this project is the investigation of sorption processes of pollutants on submicroparticles. An innovative development of TED-Pyr-GC/MS enables identification of adsorbed pollutants and the type of plastic in one single analysis step. First the pollutants are desorbed from the particles by thermodesorption and analyzed with GC/MS. The polymers are then decomposed by pyrolysis. The pyrolysis products and thus the type of plastic are identified by GC/MS analysis.

In preliminary experiments, a suitable thermodesorption GC-MS method was established for the selected trace substances acetamiprid, benzophenone, bisphenol A, cypermethrin, tonalid and phenanthrene.

In a further preliminary test, a database for polymers will be generated. In this database, the pyrolysis behaviour of different polymer types (polystyrene, polyamide, polyethylene terephthalate, polyurethane, polylactides, polymethyl methacrylate, polyethylene) is determined with pyrolysis GC/MS. For a qualitative characterization of the polymers, different sizes, additives and aged particles are investigated.
In course of the project, the adsorption and desorption behavior of the selected trace substances on the different polymer types will be investigated.
Moreover, samples from project partners from toxicological assays will be analyzed for trace substances and particle types.
At the end of the project, validated analytical methods and toxicological data will be available, which allow a risk assessment and, together with a social and jurisprudential evaluation, social and political framework conditions can serve as a basis for the development of action strategies.

Project Homepage:

Project Leader PD Dr. Johanna Grassmann
Researcher Julia Reichel, M. Sc.
Funding BMBF



  • Bartonitz, Astrid; Anyanwu, Ihuoma N.; Geist, Juergen; Imhof, Hannes K.; Reichel, Julia; Graßmann, Johanna; Drewes, Joerg E.; Beggel, Sebastian: Modulation of PAH toxicity on the freshwater organism G. roeseli by microparticles. Environmental Pollution 260, 2020, 113999 more…