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Plasticiser in the UK terrestrial environment: Occurrence and bioaccumulation?

Project Description

Researchers and the public are aware of the potential issues of plastic pollution. Images of birds, mammals and other charismatic species entangled in and eating plastics have created great concern about our profligate plastic use. The problem with plastic pollution may be more pernicious than we have previously realised. As well as the polymers themselves (PET, PVC etc.), plastics also contain a cocktail of organic and metal additives that are themselves known to be toxic. We need to understand the extent to which these plastic additives contribute to the harmful effects of plastics. This studentship will combine fieldwork, experimentation and chemical analysis to identify the distribution, persistence in soil, uptake by soil organisms and bioaccumulation of common plastic additive chemicals. The fieldwork will be conducted in the UK, but the will also be opportunities to sample in overseas locations. The student undertaking this project will, thus, be able to make a significant contribution to understanding what harm plastics may (or may not) be doing to ecosystems in the UK and worldwide.

Working with a team who have pioneered work on terrestrial and freshwater plastic pollution the student will:

1. Identify the prevalence of plastic associated chemicals in soils receiving litter and plastic contaminated wastes.
2. Characterise plasticizer leaching rates from different polymers.
3. Establish the degradation rates of plastic associated chemicals in soil.
4. Investigate plastic associated chemical uptake in earthworms as an indication of food chain transfer.
5. Investigate the occurrence and bioaccumulation of plastic additives in the tissues of common buzzards submitted post-mortem to a monitoring scheme.

The project will be hosted CEH’s Wallingford and Lancaster sites and Lancaster University (the degree awarding body). The project can be conducted flexibly, however, the main base of the project will be at CEH Lancaster, with time spent at Wallingford in the first part of the project for the sample generation phase.

As well as training in core research skills (statistic, scientific writing etc.), the student will receive training in ecotoxicology, chemical analysis using GC-MS and LC-MS, toxicokinetic modelling and spatial data analysis. All areas of expertise in high demand in a range of research and industry settings. With these skills, the student leave the PhD as a highly employable researcher. The student will have opportunities to collaborate with researcher working on similar topics in the UK, Europe and Worldwide while executing their research.

This project would ideally suit a student with a background in chemistry, biochemistry or biological sciences who is interested in applying their knowledge to an important scientific topic of high public concern. Student who have previous experience of conducting laboratory based chemical analysis, especially of environmental samples, will be particularly suited to this project. However, passion for the subject and an active interest in environmental research are just as (if not more) important. Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 2.1 degree or higher. If you have a 2.2 degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. Substantial relevant post-graduate experience may also be sufficient, please contact the supervisors for more information.

Please apply via the ENVISION portal:

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of proposed topics that are in competition for funding from the NERC ENVISION Doctoral Training Partnership View Website.

Full studentships (fees and stipend) are only available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship. If you are a citizen of an EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award, and must be able to show at interview that you can support yourself for the duration of the studentship at the UKRI level.

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