Microplastics are a trouble. We’ve found them in Earth’s waters, soils, sand, and the bodies of both animals and humans. But it seems like their invasion don’t stop to the big cities only. Now you can find them in the largely untouched region of the Pyrenees mountains of France (and Spain).
Different from regular plastics, the micro ones are invisible to naked eye and they come from a lot of sources. Any kinds of plastics that don’t quickly biodegrade will break down into smaller pieces until it’s very tiny and only visible when you use microscope. Yep. as if things are not bad enough, these little things apparently can travel through the atmosphere.
A team of researchers from Scotland and France said that they’ve analyzed samples of dust, rain, and snow collected at the Bernadouze meteorological station over the course of five months. They examined plastics settling out of the atmosphere as well as plastics deposited during rain events, where water droplets or snow would collect plastic in the air as they fell out of the sky.
The scientists weren’t able to sample easily because the Pyrenees is so remote and they had to deal with tough weather conditions as well as low accessibility. Fortunately, they were able to collect enough samples to determine daily rates of microplastics landing in the Pyrenees. The result? Even though the station is about 120 kilometers away from the nearest city, there are about 365 plastic particles fell each day on a square meter collector.
The microplastics have a variety of source such as clothing fibers, fragments of plastic bags, and packaging material. Those particles are about 300 micrometers up to 750 micrometers in length.
Not only did 249 fragments land in a square meter, but they found other types of microplastics, including 73 films and 44 fibers deposited every day within a square meter. Intensity, rather than duration, of rainfall or snow events were more important to the amount of microplastics deposited.
The team added that those plastics could come from more distant locations and they’ve discovered a “visible quantity of orange quartz-like fine dust, which is often present in winter samples, that they believe blew in from the Sahara.
“The fine dust and other particulate matter that potentially include some [microplastic] particles are possibly Saharan-, North African- or Iberian-sourced material,” said the study authors.
Compared to the previous studies on microplastics in Paris and Dongguan, the amount of fibers in the Pyrenees are lower but still comparable. Surprisingly, Paris has got lower amount of microplastics than the Pyrenees, but that could be due to the greater amounts of precipitation in the Pyrenees which capture microplastic particles in the area and deposit them in the mountains.
Impact to humans and animals
We can now confirm that people in big cities and countries are not the only ones at risk of breathing in large quantities of microplastics. There’s no known research about how they have negative impacts on humans, but studies have shown that the particles seem to negatively affect some animals which are exposed to them (impairing reproduction and damaging the digestive tracts).
Scientists still need to do a lot more research about microplastic pollution because right now we know quite little of it. The study author Deonie Allen said, “The drivers in plastic degradation are fairly well known, but the transport drivers and mechanisms–especially atmospheric transport–for microplastic appears to be complex and an area of research that now needs to be unravelled.”
Tackling the problem
Microplastics are something that put everybody at disadvantage in this world. They’re so small and we won’t be aware of how often we are producing microplastics and getting them into our own body system.
It’s really hard to get rid of these tiny particles once they’ve settled and established. However, tackling the problem and finding a solution isn’t something we know right now. The least we can do is to produce and use less plastic and keeping larger plastic objects out of the environment in the first place. But we all know that that’s not easy.
Humanity still needs to know the real impact of microplastics as well as a deep understanding of these tiny, invasive particles. Let’s hope this happens very soon.