Continental microplastics: Presence, features, and environmental transport pathways

María B. Alfonso, Andrés H. Arias, Ana C. Ronda, María C. Piccolo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Microplastics (MPs) are ubiquitous contaminants of great concern for the environment. MPs' presence and concentration in the air, soil, marine, and freshwater environments have been reported as a matter of priority in recent years. This review addresses the current knowledge of the main pathways of MPs in air, soil, and freshwater reservoirs in order to provide an integrated understanding of their behaviors in the continental environment. Therefore, MPs' occurrence (as particle counts), sources, and how their features as shape, size, polymer composition, and density could influence their transport and final sink were discussed. Wind resuspension and atmospheric fallout, groundwater migration, runoff from catchments, and water flow from rivers and effluents were pointed as the principal pathways. MPs' size, shape, polymer composition, and density interact with environmental variables as soil structure and composition, precipitation, wind, relative humidity, water temperature, and salinity. Sampling designs for MPs research should further consider soil characteristics, climate variability and extreme events, time lag and grasshopper effects, morphological and hydrological features of aquatic systems, and water currents, among others. Furthermore, long-term monitoring and lab experiments are still needed to understand MPs' behavior in the environment. This information will provide a unified understanding of the continental MPs pathways, including the key main findings, knowledge gaps, and future challenges to understand this emerging contaminant.

Original languageEnglish
Article number149447
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Dec 10 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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