Plastic in the sea, in food … and in the air and in the rain. It is a very useful input, but also very harmful to the environment. However, a new study shows us that plastic is also present in the atmosphere. The research results will be released this week. They appear in the journal Science: Plastic Rain in Protected Areas in the United States.
Plastic in the park
It was made by Janice Brahney from Utah State University. He checked the atmospheric deposition data that was collected over 14 months. She and her team identified samples of microplastics and other particles in 11 national parks and wilderness areas in the United States. Then they identified its composition to find the emission sources. “4% of the atmospheric particles analyzed in these remote locations were synthetic polymers,” he explains. “The deposit rates really surprised us,” he adds.
So far, the proportion of plastic present in the atmosphere was unknown. Brahney confirms: «The plastic cycle is closely linked to the world water cycle. It has oceanic, terrestrial and also atmospheric dwell times ».
The study found that cities and population centers were the main sources of plastics, the transportation and accumulation of which was primarily via water.
All kinds of plastic
Most of the plastics deposited in the samples were microfibers. They come from clothing as well as from industrial materials. About 30% of the particles were brightly colored microspheres. They come from industrial paints or emails. The results show that more than 1,000 tons of microplastics are deposited in protected areas in the western United States each year. Corresponds to more than 123 million water bottles reduced to small particles. 4% of the atmospheric particles from distant places were plastic polymers.
Brahney suggests that plastic deposition rate estimates are quite conservative. Many samples that did not meet the search criteria 100% were removed. It is very likely that the rate is higher than this 4% net.
The ubiquity of microplastics in the atmosphere has previously unknown health consequences. It is feared that they may accumulate in the lung tissue. “Plastic is in the atmosphere and raises widespread ecological and social concerns at all levels,” says Brahney. He concludes that “identifying the accumulation of plastic in the atmosphere is an important first step in developing global solutions.”