More MOMENTUM for research into micro- and nanoplastics

KWR works further within a wide consortium on MNP health research

A wide consortium began research in 2021 on micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs). This MOMENTUM research will now be continued in a follow-up project which is also expanded in seven new breakthrough projects. KWR will mainly contribute to analyses in water and aqueous matrices, microbiological threats, risk assessment, and societal solutions aimed at limiting the spread of MNPs in the environment and the environmental and human exposures to MNPs.

KWR participates in various research projects on micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) in water, such as the MOMENTUM project, which began in 2018 under the project leadership of the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (Utrecht University) and Deltares. KWR is involved in the first project on methods to measure and identify MNPs in human samples. Methods of this kind can help to study whether these plastic particles can possibly be absorbed in the human body and, if so, where and through which exposure pathways – for instance, via the respiratory and the digestive tracts. The first step was taken towards developing a roadmap for an assessment of the safety aspects of MNPs for health, and a discussion was initiated concerning different policy perspectives and the role of various stakeholders in the spread of MNPs, as a basis for the elaboration of possible solutions.


The research into micro- and nanoplastics in MOMENTUM will now be continued in the follow-up project MOMENTUM 2.0  and in breakthrough projects. KWR will contribute mainly in the area in analyses of water and aqueous matrices, microbiological threats, risk assessment, and societal solutions aimed at limiting the spread of MNPs in the environment and the environmental and human exposures to MNPs. Several KWR researchers talk about what has been achieved so far, and what they will be working on in the years ahead.

Researching how big the MNP problem is

KWR researcher Stefan Kools: ‘The objective of the research programme includes defining the extent of the problem. To this end, we want to improve the analysis and integrated risk assessment concerning the relevant particles, chemicals and micro-organisms. Ultimately, we want to jointly develop solutions to minimize the potential impact on human health of exposure to MNPs. A number of options have already been explored within MOMENTUM – for example, improving the material and product properties; improving the (bio)degradation; recycling; and combining the environmental and human assessment. Together with other organisations in the MOMENTUM consortium, KWR will describe what role can be played by standard-setting of microplastics in the environment.’

More effective MNP detection in complex human tissues

KWR researcher Patrick Bauerlein has worked in recent years on methods for the measurement and identification of MNPs: ‘We are going to improve the performance of the Pyrolysis–gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, or Py-GC-MS, method. The method is important in the analysis of more complex human tissues, such as those of the liver and spleen. KWR will focus primarily on improving the cleaning process of the extracts, which is essential to the method’s overall effectiveness. We will conduct part of this work in collaboration with TNO, among others, in the Py-Harmony breakthrough project.’

Pathogens on MNP

Biofilms of micro-organisms can form on microplastic particles – and that is the field of KWR researcher Bas van der Zaan: ‘These biofilms can also contain pathogenic bacteria and viruses, which naturally entails health risks. KWR is working in MOMENTUM 2.0 with research institutes like RIVM and TNO to determine which bacteria are transmitted via microplastics, and how these affect the immune system. KWR will detect the pathogenic micro-organisms that attach to microplastic particles and, in this manner, can penetrate the human body.’

Risk assessment

‘The risk assessment of microplastics is complex. Together with the consortium, KWR has developed a first roadmap for the further development of the risk assessment of microplastic particles,’ says KWR researcher Renske Hoondert. ‘This involves five key areas: sources, external and internal exposure, toxicity and risk assessment. A workshop with MOMENTUM experts refined this plan and gathered insights for further research efforts. In the years ahead, this will be further elaborated by the consortium. Among other elements, we will add probability density functions to characterise the diversity of microplastic particles, model external and internal exposure, and conduct tests in case studies.’

Image 1. Two KWR researchers at the MOMENTUM project’s kick-off event.


Momentum 2.0 and Py-Harmony are both made possible by ZonMW, part of the programme: Microplastics & Health.