Now, Plastic Rain Is The Biggest Concern Then Acid Rain
In what seems like a pristine, remote mountain region, tiny pieces of plastic pollution were found raining from the sky—raising questions on the worldwide extent of plastic pollution—a first-of-its-kind study has found.
Scientists recorded a daily rate of 365 microplastic particles per square meter falling from the sky within the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.
“It was incredible what proportion microplastic was being deposited,” said Deonie Allen, a researcher at EcoLab within the School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Toulouse, France. there have been no obvious sources for the microplastics within 60 miles (100 kilometers), said Allen, the lead author of the study published in Nature Geoscience.
“Microplastic may be a new atmospheric pollutant,” Allen said. Read more about the emerging science of microplastics.
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic waste. Their presence in oceans and waterways has received an excellent deal of scientific and media attention in recent years. However, only two previous studies have searched for the presence of microplastics within the air. Both were in cities and their results were comparable, says Allen. Microplastics within the air appear to be ubiquitous.
“If you go outside with a UV light, set at a wavelength of 400 nanometers, and shine it sideways you’ll see all types of plastic particles within the air fluoresce,” she said. “It’s almost worse indoors. It’s all a touch terrifying.”
Allen and colleagues collected microplastics over a period of 5 months at a meteorological station about 4,500 feet (1,400 meters) above water level using atmospheric deposition catchers that appear as if tall funnels. They counted and analyzed the plastic fragments, fibers, and films at rock bottom of the collectors that were but 300 microns in size. The human hair averages between 50 and 70 microns in diameter. the littlest particle a person’s eye can see is about 40 microns.
More than 50% of the microplastics found at the station were fragments but 25 microns in size.
Researchers studied wind patterns to seek out a source of the microplastics collected, but found none within a 60-mile radius of the region—which is sparsely populated and without industrial, commercial, or large agricultural activities. A quantity of orange quartz-like fine dust was also collected, said co-author Steve Allen. This was likely Saharan dust, as past studies have shown such dust particles, which are as large as 400 microns, can travel thousands of miles. But “no one knows how far microplastics can travel,” he added.
Scientists have warned we are creating a “plastic planet”. Some 420 million plenty of plastics were produced in 2015, up from just over two million tons in 1950. Over this 65-year period roughly 6 billion tons ended up either in landfill or within the natural environment, a 2017 study estimated. Plastic waste that starts out as bottles, packaging, then on degrades over time to microplastic particles or much smaller nanoparticles. One study estimated there are 15 to 51 trillion microplastics particles floating on the surface of the oceans. A trillion is 1 thousand billion. A trillion seconds is almost 32,000 years.
Health Impacts Of Microplastics?
People are exposed to microplastics through food and air, but the health effects are unknown, said Stephanie Wright, a researcher at the Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College London within the UK .
“We’ve only recently recognized human exposure to microplastics through the air,” said Wright, who wrote an in depth review on human health and microplastics in 2017.
What is known is that microplastics smaller than 25 microns can enter the physical body through the nose or mouth and people but five microns can find yourself in lung tissue. “We do know that other sorts of small particles do have health impacts,” Wright said.
There is an excellent deal of concern about fine particulates within the air formed by burning fossil fuels, including black carbon or soot. These are linked to a good range of health impacts from asthma to heart attacks to impairing children’s memory and IQ. Most countries have pollution standards to limit the volumes of particles but 10 microns, and particularly those below 2.5 microns, respectively referred to as PM 10 and PM 2.5 standards.
It’s also known that microplastics tend to be sticky and may accumulate heavy metals like mercury & protracted organic pollutants (POP), including brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Those materials have known health impacts, said Wright.
The volume of microplastics within the environment is probably going getting to increase with the rising amounts of plastics being produced, including synthetic textiles, the scientists warn. Plastics are now getting used in roads, bricks, concrete, paints, and a number of other things which may not always be obvious to the general public . Yet “there’s an excessive amount of we don’t realize microplastics within the environment,” Wright said.
Far less is understood about nanoplastic particles. Nano means really, really small: A billion nanoparticles can fit on the top of a pin.
What About Nano Particles?
“No one should be surprised that microplastics are everywhere,” said Roman Lehner of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Nanoplastics also are everywhere but the technology to detect them doesn’t yet exist, said Lehner, who is functioning on the matter .
Nanoparticles can have markedly different chemical and physical properties than an equivalent materials at micro or larger sizes. one among the unique characteristics of nanoplastics is that because they’re so small more atoms are on the surface of a particle compared to its volume. This makes them more chemically reactive. The potential risks to human health and therefore the environment of nanoplastic particles maybe different from microplastics, said Lehner, who co-authored a replacement review of the potential risks.
Lab studies have shown adverse impacts of nanoplastics on aquatic organisms. Studies have shown that polystyrene nanoplastics ingested by aquatic organisms skilled cell walls. This seemed to change behavior and affected endocrine function of fish and other marine species. Lab experiments have also shown nanoplastics cross cell walls in samples of human intestines.
Almost no research is being done on nanoplastics within the air and therefore it impacts on human health and the environment, Lehner said. “We don’t yet know all the hazards. However it’s likely the environmental impacts are significant and far more research is warranted.”
Even as more research is required it might be prudent to use fewer plastics, said S. Allen. Single-use plastics like shopping bags and straws got to be eliminated. Recycled plastic just delays its degradation into microplastics, so it’s much better to scale back plastic consumption, he said.
As for bioplastics or biodegradable plastics? They still become microplastics you can’t see, S. Allen said.
Plastics and climate Climate
change is yet one more reason to scale back plastic consumption, a replacement study published at an equivalent time warns. Nearly all plastics are made up of fossil fuels and this industry resulted in emissions amounting to 1.7 billion metric tonnes of CO2 in 2015, consistent with a replacement study in Nature global climate change . With volumes of plastics produced doubling every decade, by 2050 CO2 emissions could reach 6.5 billion tonnes, or about 15% of the Worldwide Carbon Budget.
If the industry were a rustic it’d be the fourth largest CO2 emitter behind China, US, & India. However, aggressive application of renewable energy, recycling, and biomass as a feedstock could keep emissions in 2050 on par with 2015 levels, the study noted. That said, there would even be fourfold the maximum amount plastic being produced.