Cloud-Point Extraction Combined with Thermal Degradation for Nanoplastic Analysis Using Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry

The contamination of micro- and nanoplastics in marine systems and freshwater is a global issue. Determination of micro- and nanoplastics in the aqueous environment is of high priority to fully assess the risk that plastic particles will pose. Although microplastics have been detected in a variety of aquatic ecosystems, the analysis of nanoplastics remains an unsolved challenge. Herein, for the first time, a Triton X-45 (TX-45)-based cloud-point extraction (CPE) was proposed to preconcentrate trace nanoplastics in environmental waters. Under the optimum extraction conditions, an enrichment factor of 500 was obtained for two types of nanoplastics with different compositions, polystyrene (PS) and poly­(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), without disturbing their original morphology and sizes. Additionally, following thermal treatment at 190 °C for 3 h, the CPE-obtained extract could be submitted to pyrolysis gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (Py-GC/MS) analysis for mass quantification of nanoplastics. Taking 66.2 nm PS nanoplastics and 86.2 nm PMMA nanoplastics as examples, the proposed method showed excellent reproducibility, and high sensitivity with respective detection limits of 11.5 and 2.5 fM. Feasibility of the proposed approach was verified by application of the optimized procedure to four real water samples. Recoveries of 84.6–96.6% at a spiked level of 88.6 fM for PS nanoplastics and 76.5–96.6% at a spiked level of 50.4 fM for PMMA nanoplastics were obtained. Consequently, this work provides an efficient approach for nanoplastic analysis in environmental waters.