OVER 1,000 tons of plastic is raining down on the Western US each year, according to concerned scientists.
The researchers found evidence of microplastic particles and fibres ‘spiralling’ through the Earth’s natural systems, such as the rain cycle.
What’s even more concerning is that the microplastics are said to be accumulating in protected wilderness areas and US national parks.
Utah State University Assistant Professor Janice Brahney and her team identified the microplasitcs over a 14 month period.
They conducted there research in 11 national park and wilderness areas and used powerful magnification to spot microplastic in samples from the sites.
The team also tried to figure out the source of the plastic particles so they could track emissions and the subsequent fallout.
Brahney said: “We were shocked at the estimated deposition rates and kept trying to figure out where our calculations went wrong.
“We then confirmed through 32 different particle scans that roughly 4% of the atmospheric particles analyzed from these remote locations were synthetic polymers.”
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic measuring less than five millimetres.
Some of these microplastics have been made on purpose for things like cosmetics but secondary microplastics can be created as larger pieces break down.
Nanoplastics are even smaller pieces of microplastics that have worn down to smaller than a few micrometres.
It’s thought these nanoplastics can penetrate the guts of living organisms and become part of tissues and cells.
This is considered dangerous because plastic often contain toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.
Marine life can ingest these plastics and then they can enter the human food chain via fish and other seafood.
Scientists are still trying to work out how dangerous this plastic pollution will be for humans.
During the recent study, the researchers noted that, in 2017, 348 million metric tons of plastic was produced on the Earth.
This production is not thought to be slowing down.
We know these microplastics accumulate in rivers and the ocean but it’s only recently that researchers have highlighted they’re also in our atmosphere.
Brahney said: “Several studies have attempted to quantify the global plastic cycle but were unaware of the atmospheric limb.
“Our data shows the plastic cycle is reminiscent of the global water cycle, having atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial lifetimes.”
Cities and areas with lots of humans were found to be major sources of the microplastics carried in the atmosphere and then deposited.
Most of the plastics found in both wet and dry samples were from clothing and industrial materials.
About 30% of the particles were brightly coloured microbeads thought to be made from industrial paints and coatings.
Others particles had just broken down from bigger plastic items.
The researchers noted: “This result, combined with the size distribution of identified plastics, and the relationship to global-scale climate patterns, suggest that plastic emission sources have extended well beyond our population centers and, through their longevity, spiral through the Earth system.”
The scientist’s estimate that over 1000 tons of microplastics are deposited on protected land in the western US annually, the equivalent of over 123 million plastic water bottles.
This is a staggering result in itself but clear and white particles weren’t even included in the study as they couldn’t be counted properly using the magnification process.
The researchers therefore think their estimate is on the low side of what could be an even bigger issue.
Brahney concluded: “This ubiquity of microplastics in the atmosphere and the subsequent deposition to remote terrestrial and aquatic environments raise widespread ecological and societal concerns.
“Identifying the key mechanisms of plastic emission to the atmosphere is a first step in developing global-scale solutions.”
These findings appear in the June 12 issue of Science Magazine in an article called ‘Plastic Rain in Protected Areas of the United States’.
In other news, almost 20,000 tons of diesel has been released into an Arctic river in an ecological catastrophe.
Humans are said to be putting more than one million animal species at risk of extinction.
And, here are some of the animals at risk of extinction and how we might save them.
What are your climate change concerns? Let us know in the comments…
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