Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lenczewski, Melissa E.

Degree Name

M.S. (Master of Science)

Legacy Department

Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment


Microplastic particles are currently listed as a Contaminant of Emerging Concern (CEC) since they are in much of Earth’s water systems and recent studies indicate plastic particles can sorb toxic contaminants. Microplastics (MP) are defined as plastic particles under 5 mm in length. Currently, there is a paucity of data on the transport of MP in the subsurface. This study investigated the transport, filtration, retardation, and influence of 5-100ߎm plastic polyethylene spheres in a shallow sandy aquifer over a distance of 1m by utilizing two forced hydraulic gradient tracer studies. Slug tests were used to estimate hydraulic conductivity prior and subsequently to the tracer tests. Results showed that: (1) polyethylene microplastic spheres traveled with majority of spheres lost due to filtration in aquifer material; (2) polyethylene microsphere transport is retarded compared to the conservative solute; and (3) smaller polyethylene spheres had higher rate of transport. These results demonstrate the necessity for more extensive research investigating the many parameters of MP transport in the subsurface.


153 pages




Northern Illinois University

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