November 28, 2018

Plasticiser in the UK terrestrial environment: Occurrence and bioaccumulation?

Researchers and the public are aware of the potential issues of plastic pollution. Images of birds, mammals and other charismatic species entangled in and eating plastics have created great concern about our profligate plastic use. The problem with plastic pollution may be more pernicious than we have previously realised. As well as the polymers themselves (PET, PVC etc.), plastics also contain a cocktail of organic and metal additives that are themselves known to be toxic. We need to understand the extent to which these plastic additives contribute to the harmful effects of plastics. This studentship will combine fieldwork, experimentation and chemical analysis to identify the distribution, persistence in soil, uptake by soil organisms and bioaccumulation of common plastic additive chemicals.

Working with a team who have pioneered work on terrestrial and freshwater plastic pollution the student will: 1. Identify the prevalence of plastic associated chemicals in soils receiving litter and plastic contaminated wastes.  2. Characterise plasticizer leaching rates from different polymers. 3. Establish the degradation rates of plastic associated chemicals in soil. 4. Investigate plastic associated chemical uptake in earthworms as an indication of food chain transfer.  5. Investigate the occurrence and bioaccumulation of plastic additives in the tissues of common buzzards submitted post-mortem to a monitoring scheme.

The project will be hosted at CEH’s Wallingford and Lancaster sites and Lancaster University (the degree awarding body). As well as training in core research skills (statistic, scientific writing etc.), the student will receive training in ecotoxicology, chemical analysis using GC-MS and LC-MS, toxicokinetic modelling and spatial data analysis. All areas of expertise in high demand in a range of research and industry settings. The student will also have opportunities to collaborate with researcher working on similar topics in the UK, Europe and Worldwide while executing their research.

This project would ideally suit a student with a background in chemistry or biochemistry who is interested in applying their knowledge to an important scientific topic of high public concern. Student who have previous experience of conducting laboratory based chemical analysis, especially of environmental samples, will be particularly suited to this project. However, passion for the subject and an active interest in environmental research are just as (if not more) important. Candidates will have a minimum of a 2.1 in a relevant degree (or a Master qualification if a 2.2. degree).

Enquiries: Dr David Spurgeon (dasp@ceh.ac.uk).