Why Are Microplastics Really Falling From the Sky, Even in Remote Areas?

We know that microplastics are in soil (and fruits and vegetables), water, and in our bodies. We actually learned about microplastics too. fall from the sky.

A scientific article in 2019 Nature Geology reported that microplastics fell from the sky over the Pyrenees Mountains in France – a “remote, pristine mountain basin” with no apparent source nearby. “We suggest that microplastics may reach and affect remote, sparsely populated areas through atmospheric transport,” the newspaper said.

This photo is actually from Yosemite, but you get the idea. Image: Jason Hogan on Unsplash

Deonie Allen, the paper’s principal investigator, National Geographic about similar studies in cities. “If you go outside with a UV light tuned to a wavelength of 400 nanometers and you shine it sideways, you’ll see all kinds of plastic particles in the air glow fluorescently,” he said. “It’s almost worse inside. It’s all a little spooky.”

in 2020 Science reported that researchers found that “even in the most isolated areas in the United States – national parks and national wildlife areas – microplastic particles accumulate after being transported there by wind and rain”:

“They estimate that more than 1,000 metric tons per year falls into protected areas of the south and midwest of the US. Many of these plastic particles are synthetic microfibers used to make clothing.”

scientific american explains how microplastics can rise into the air and travel very long distances. “Dust particles carried by wind from places like the Sahara Desert can travel halfway around the world before they land on the earth. The plastics that humans throw away are dragged through the atmosphere as they break up into tiny bits in nature.”

Image: İhsan Gading on Unsplash

“We’re not supposed to breathe this material,” says Steve Allen, a microplastics researcher at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. The surrounding plastics “carry all kinds of pesticides, heavy metals, and all the other chemicals we produce over time,” he adds. “They’re going to carry them straight into our lungs.”

in 2021 wired Reported in a research article published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the sources of these microplastics in the air. Some interesting findings:

“84 percent of airborne microplastics in western America actually come from roads. outside of big cities. Another 11 percent may be blowing here from the ocean. (The researchers who created the model think that the microplastic particles stay in the air for about a week, which is more than enough for them to cross continents and oceans.)

“Microplastics – particles smaller than 5 millimeters – come from a number of sources. Plastic bags and bottles that are released into the environment break down into increasingly smaller pieces. Your washing machine is another important source: When you wash synthetic clothes, tiny microfibres are shed and drained into a wastewater treatment plant. The plant filters some microfibers and traps them in the “sludge”, which is processed human waste that is then applied as fertilizer to agricultural fields. It fills the soil with microplastics. Then a wastewater plant dumps the remaining microfibers into the sea in purified water. This has been happening for decades and plastics The amount in the ocean is increasing rapidly, as it is decomposed but never truly destroyed.”

As for how roads have become a source of microplastics, the article points out that car tires, which today are not pure rubber but a cocktail of synthetics and chemicals, emit particles as they roll. Which should be obvious to anyone replacing worn tires: Where did all that tread material go? It doesn’t just disappear, it just breaks up into smaller particles.

And how do microplastics in the ocean end up on land? Researchers from New Zealand’s University of Auckland – “calculated that 74 metric tons of microplastics fall from the atmosphere into the city each year, the equivalent of more than 3 million plastic bottles falling from the sky – looked at the source and identified the potential culprit:

Image: Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

“The production of airborne microplastics from refractive waves could be an important part of the global transport of microplastics,” he says. [Dr. Joel Rindelaub, of the School of Chemical Sciences at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland]. “And it may help explain how some microplastics get into the atmosphere and are transported to distant places like in New Zealand.”

The main material detected was polyethylene (PE), followed by polycarbonate (PC) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). While polyethylene and PET are packaging materials, PC is used in electrical and electronic applications. All three are used in the construction industry.

And finally, New Atlas reports that the microplastic journey “could be facilitated by winds that pick up plastic particles from the ocean surface and carry them into the atmosphere, a sign of the distances the pieces can travel in Arctic and Antarctic snowfall.” In other words, there is nowhere to hide from the microplastic crisis we have created or contributed to.

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