Microplastics and other anthropogenic particles are prevalent in mussels from San Francisco Bay, and show no correlation with PAHs. Environmental Pollution 271.2021.
Microplastics are an emerging contaminant of high environmental concern due to their widespread distribution and availability to aquatic organisms. Filter-feeding organisms like bivalves have been identified as particularly susceptible to microplastics, and because of this, it has been suggested bivalves could be useful bioindicators of microplastic pollution in ecosystems. We sampled resident mussels and clams from five sites within San Francisco Bay for microplastics and other anthropogenic microparticles. Cages of depurated mussels (denoted transplants) were also deployed at four sites in the Bay for 90 days to investigate temporal uptake of microplastics and microparticles. Because microplastics can sorb PAHs, and thus may act as a source of these chemicals upon ingestion, transplant mussels and resident clams were also analyzed for PAHs. We found anthropogenic microparticles in all samples at all sites, some of which were identified as microplastics. There was no statistical difference between the mean number of microparticles found in resident and transplant species. There were significant site-specific differences among microparticle abundances in the Bay, with the highest abundances observed in the South Bay. No correlation was found between the number of microparticles and the sum concentrations of PAHs, priority PAHs, or any individual PAH, suggesting the chemical concentrations observed reflect broader chemical trends in the Bay rather than direct exposure through microplastic ingestion. The pattern of spatial distribution of microparticles in transplanted mussels matched that of sediment samples from the Bay, suggesting bivalves could be a useful bioindicator of microplastic abundances in sediment, but not surface water.