Negligible adsorption and toxicity of microplastic fibers in disinfected secondary effluents

Anwar Dawas, Andrey Ethan Rubin, Noa Sand, Evyatar Ben Mordechay, Benny Chefetz, Vered Mordehay, Nirit Cohen, Adi Radian, Nebojsa Ilic, Uwe Hubner, Ines Zucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wastewater treatment plants play a crucial role in controlling the transport of pollutants to the environment and often discharge persistent contaminants such as synthetic microplastic fibers (MFs) to the ecosystem. In this study, we examined the fate and toxicity of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) MFs fabricated from commercial cloth in post-disinfection secondary effluents by employing conditions that closely mimic disinfection processes applied in wastewater treatment plants. Challenging conventional assumptions, this study illustrated that oxidative treatment by chlorination and ozonation incurred no significant modification to the surface morphology of the MFs. Additionally, experimental results demonstrated that both pristine and oxidized MFs have minimal adsorption potential towards contaminants of emerging concern in both effluents and alkaline water. The limited adsorption was attributed to the inert nature of MFs and low surface area to volume ratio. Slight adsorption was observed for sotalol, sulfamethoxazole, and thiabendazole in alkaline water, where the governing adsorption interactions were suggested to be hydrogen bonding and electrostatic forces. Acute exposure experiments on human cells revealed no immediate toxicity; however, the chronic and long-term consequences of the exposure should be further investigated. Overall, despite the concern associated with MFs pollution, this work demonstrates the overall indifference of MFs in WWTP (i.e., minor effects of disinfection on MFs surface properties and limited adsorption potential toward a mix of trace organic pollutants), which does not change their acute toxicity toward living forms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124377
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2024


  • Chlorination
  • Microfibers
  • Ozonation
  • Polyfluorinated substances
  • Wastewater

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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