We love the sound of raindrops falling on our land. We also love the smell of petrichor, the pleasant smell produced when rain fall on dry soil. But will we love rain that much when it is raining plastic, like what happened in Rocky Mountains?
Yes, we have contaminated this earth so much with plastic that it is now even raining plastic. It means that we have even contaminated the air with plastic, or at least we can say that we are contaminating the clouds with it.
A survey conducted by Gregory Wetherbee, a researcher in United States Geological Survey found that rainwater samples collected from the area contained significant amount of microplastic. Is it possible that Rocky Mountains in not the only place on earth where such kind of phenomenon occurs?
Here in this article we are going to talk about this shocking story of plastic rain.
The Plastic Rain
The survey that Whetherbee conducted that day was ordinary, just collecting rainwater samples from all around places. The main intention was actually to study nitrogen pollution in the area, what he found was more shocking than what he had expected.
“I guess I expected to see mostly soil and mineral particles,” the researcher said to The Guardian. However, rainwater collected across Colorado that he had analyzed under microscope showed rainbow plastic fibers, beads, and shards.
“Fibers were present in a variety of colors; the most frequently observed color was blue followed by red > silver > purple > green > yellow > other colors,” the report stated. “Plastic particles such as beads and shards were also observed with magnification.”
“The plastic materials are mostly fibers that are only visible with magnification (~40X),” the report stated. The findings were polished in a report titled “It is raining plastic”, and in the report he stated that about 90% of the rainwater collected from six sites in Denver-Boulder area contained microplastic.
“My results are purely accidental,” he said. “I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye. It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.”
Where Did It Come From?
So, where did the plastic pollution in our clouds come from? Sherri Mason, a microplastic researcher and sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend said that major contributor for the phenomenon is our waste.
With only 10% of plastic consumed to ever be recycled, we are actually piling plastic all up over the earth. The unrecycled plastic waste then breaks down into tiny particles called microplastic. “Plastic fibers also break off your clothes every time you wash them,” said Mason.
We currently don’t have any method for tracing where did the plastic particles come from. Almost anything made of plastic will shed itself into plastic particles. “And then those particles get incorporated into water droplets when it rains,” Mason explained.
What’s scary is that when the particles are incorporated into water droplets when it rains, it can go literally anywhere. It will wash into rivers, lakes, bays, and oceans, worsening current water pollution caused by plastic waste.
Furthermore, it can even enter our groundwater sources, which is our last resort for clean and fresh water. It might have happened now, or will happen sometime later in the future. But the prove is real and it means that we have reached the point of no return.
The plastic particles in the water will last for hundreds of years, and even more, and humans in present or in the future will consume the contaminated water.
What Will Happen?
So, what will happen when our rain water is contaminated with microplastic? There are so many terrors await when it happens. We are already living in a polluted world, and since we were born, we have been exposed to many kinds of pollutants.
With the addition of microplastic in our purest form of water, rain water, we will be exposed to even more dangerous pollutant. Even though there is still no study stating about the effect of microplastic to human health, but can’t we already imagine living with tiny particles of plastics inside our bodies?
With the presence of microplastic in rain water, it means almost impossible to avoid consuming microplastic nowadays. Just as we mentioned earlier, rain water has the access to get to any water bodies. And even though it will not happen now, it will surely happen in the future.
A study in 2018 published in Science of the Total Environment, described that plastic contains additives that can act as endocrine disruptors. In a test of feeding plastic to mice, it was found out that the disruptors significantly interfered with the microbiome.
“Mice aren’t humans, but we do know that when the microbiome is disrupted in humans it leads to many diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity,” said Erin Pitkethly, RPh, a registered pharmacist and certified nutritionist with Robinsong Health in Ontario.
Not The First Time
Pretty scary story, isn’t it? well, actually plastic rain in Colorado is not the first time researchers found microplastic contamination in rain water. Researchers have also found such kind of thing earlier in France when they observed rain falling in Pyrenees.
Microplastic has even also wound up in remote and pristine island. Trillion pieces of plastic also have been floating in the ocean, creating ‘artificial’ islands that disrupt the balance of marine ecosystem and kill marine creatures.
It might be good to find out about this condition earlier, because without such kind of ‘accident’, we will not be aware of the dangers up to nowadays. “This study was not designed for collecting and analyzing samples for plastic particles. The results are unanticipated and opportune,” said Whetherbee.
Preventing greater disaster to happen might not be that easy, but we can at least try to reduce the scale. Stop consuming single use plastic in our daily activities, recycle our plastic waste, and participating in ocean-cleaning activities might be able to hamper the disaster.