Glass microbeads in coastal sediments as a proxy for traffic-related particulate contamination
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Retroreflective glass microbeads used in road markings have been characterised and subsequently identified in urban coastal sediments. Clear or translucent silica beads range in diameter from about 30 to 700 μm and readily break from the matrix of detached or damaged markings on abrasion. At an urban location close to the city centre of Plymouth, southwest England, and in an estuary below a large road bridge, microbeads were detected in nearly all intertidal sediments analysed (n = 18) and at concentrations up to about 550 kg-1 dw. At a location not immediately impacted by major roads, beads were entirely absent from sediments (n = 9). With a size range and density similar to silt-sand, glass beads appear to accumulate in sediment subject to road runoff and act as persistent proxies for traffic-related contamination. Although beads are unlikely to be inherently toxic, they may serve as indicators of more harmful chemicals in road dust.
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