Microplastics are raining from the sky onto the Rocky Mountains, new study finds
- Researchers say microplastic is raining onto the Rocky Mountains in Colorado
- Pieces of plastic were found in rainwater and may come from trash and clothing
- New research suggests plastic fibers can be carried long-distance via the air
- Scientists are calling for a new methodology of studying microplastic pollution
The apparent breadth of plastic pollution continues to widen in a new study that says rain laden with microplastics is pelting the Rocky Mountains and spreading ecological fallout.
According to the research, samples of rainwater collected from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado show myriad types of plastic particles, including beads and other shards, in another stark reminder of how easily the small particles can spread.
‘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,’ Greg Wetherbee US Geological Survey researcher told The Guardian.
‘It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.’
The study shows plastic fibers in many shapes and forms that were taken from samples of rainwater in Colorado
Wetherbee, who collected the samples while studying nitrogen pollution, came upon the discovery by accident and highlights the phenomenon in a study called ‘It is Raining Plastic.’
While the particles are impossible to actually trace, a new wave of research suggest that small plastic particles can be transported hundreds, if not thousands, of miles through the air.
Some of those particles even enter the water and rain down to Earth, which may contribute to the minuscule plastics found even in remote areas, notes an microplastic researcher interview by The Guardian.
As noted by Channel 7 in Denver, the particles found by Wetherbee were pulled from a located 10,000 feet above sea level.
Wetherbee says the particles come from myriad sources, including plastic waste and even fibers from clothing, and said that more research is needed to discern exactly what effect the particles have on affected environment.
‘We need to find out how much is depositing, where it’s depositing, and how does this material affect the eco-system. Does it get into micro-organisms? Does it get into larger levels of the food chain. What larger organisms? Does it matter? And what effect does it have on the ecosystem,’ Wetherbee told Channel 7.
Wetherbee’s research mirrors recent findings that documented plastics in equally remote areas of the Pyrenees mountains.
This is the first documented case of plastics raining onto the Rocky Mountains and is a phenomenon recently documented in other remote regions.
According to those findings, polystyrene, which is used in packaging but not widely recycled, was the most commonly found plastic, followed by polyethylene, which is used to make plastic bottles and bags.
The tiny pieces of polymer, some of the, less than 5mm in size, were found being deposited in a remote area on the border between France and Spain previously considered ‘pristine’.
Wetherbee says in order to adequately assess the the threat of plastics that are showering formerly untouched natural landscapes, researchers need a new methodology.
‘The mass of plastic in even the most concentrated samples was not large enough to weigh or reliably estimate,’ write the scientists.
‘Developing a routine capability to calculate plastic wet-deposition loads is not possible with current technology. Methods for more accurate estimation of plastic loads are needed.’
WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS AND HOW DO THEY GET INTO OUR WATERWAYS?
Microplastics are plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres (0.2 inches).
They have hit the headlines over recent years, as improper disposal has resulted in tonnes of waste making its way into the ocean.
Each year, tonnes of plastic waste fails to get recycled and dealt with correctly, which can mean they end up in marine ecosystems.
Although it’s unclear exactly how they end up in the water, microplastics may enter through simple everyday wear and tear of clothing and carpets.
Tumble dryers may also be a source, particularly if they have a vent to the open air.
Plastics don’t break down for thousands of years and it is estimated that there are already millions of items of plastic waste in the oceans. This number is expected to rise.
Studies have also revealed 700,000 plastic fibres could be released into the atmosphere with every washing machine cycle.
Current water systems are unable to effectively filter out all microplastic contamination, due to the varying size of particles.
The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed.
More than 80 per cent of the world’s tap water is contaminated with plastic, research published in September 2017 revealed.
The US has the highest contamination rate at 93 per cent, followed by Lebanon and India, experts from the University of Minnesota found.
France, Germany and the UK have the lowest levels, however, they still come in at 72 per cent.
Overall, 83 per cent of water samples from dozens of nations around the world contain microplastics.
Scientists warn microplastics are so small they could penetrate organs.
Bottled water may not be a safer alternative, as scientists have found contaminated samples.
Creatures of all shapes and sizes have been found to have consumed the plastics, whether directly or indirectly.
Previous research has also revealed microplastics absorb toxic chemicals, which are then released in the gut of animals.