Researchers of a new study have found that microplastics rain down on what appears to be pristine and remote mountain regions as winds carry these tiny pieces of plastic pollution virtually everywhere.
Tiny Plastic Pollutants
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long. They have long been known to contaminate the air of big cities such as Paris and Dongguan in China, but in the new study, researchers were able to collect an average of 365 plastic particles per day from a square meter collector on the seemingly remote and pristine part of the Pyrenees mountains in southern France.
Steve Allen, from the French institution EcoLab, and colleagues found several types of microplastic floating on the wind in the Pyrenees. These include bits from plastic bags, plastic film, and packaging materials, as well as fibers from clothings.
Wind Transport Microplastic To Remote Environments
The researchers think these are not from local sources, as there are only a few small villages within 96 kilometers (60 miles) of the study site. Allen and colleagues suspect that rain or snow carried some of the particles down to the ground.
These particles, however, do not need precipitation to fall to Earth. The researchers found that the level of plastic particle rain is correlated with the strengths of the wind. Analysis of data also revealed the microplastics could be carried 100 kilometers (62 miles) in the air, albeit modeling suggests they could be transported farther.
"An air mass trajectory analysis shows microplastic transport through the atmosphere over a distance of up to 95 km. We suggest that microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport," Allen and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Nature Geoscience on April 15.
The study is the first to show that tiny plastic particles rain down just as hard in remote regions, and that they can travel across significant distances through the wind.
"It is comparable to what was found in the centre of Paris and Dongguan, and those are megacities where a lot of pollution is expected," said study researcher Deonie Allen, also from the EcoLab.
"Because we were on the top of a remote mountain, and there is no close source, there is the potential for microplastic to be anywhere and everywhere."