Microplastics can travel far from their source on a gentle breeze – spreading the scourge of plastic pollution to all corners of the planet
- Scientists studying air in the remote French Pyrenees have found microplastics
- They are being deposited daily from a region around 95km away by air and wind
- It suggests that microplastics don’t just travel by water and human deposits
- The results add to limited research on air borne microplastics in remote regions
Microplastics can be carried along for miles by the wind, travelling efficiently through the atmosphere to reach the remotest of regions, a shock new study has found.
It is known microplastics can travel long distances via waterways, depositing fibres from human clothing, but little research has looked at their transport through the air.
A study of the air on a remote mountain in the French Pyrenees showed that significant amounts of microplastics were being deposited daily into the atmosphere from locations almost 60 miles away.
Scroll down for video
A new study has shown that microplastics can be carried with the wind, travelling efficiently through the atmosphere to reach the remotest of regions such as the French Pyrenees (pictured)
Plastic pollution on Earth is set to double by 2030, threatening wildlife and human health and microplastics are being increasingly found in remote areas of our planet.
Previously, microparticles have shown up in the Arctic, where the process of freezing and melting sea ice transports plastic particles.
They were recently found in the Forni mountain glaciers in Switzerland, confirming the widespread contamination of natural resources.
Evidence exists for microplastics being transported by air are also available, but mostly for dense megacities such as Dongguan in China and Paris in France.
Few studies have been carried out in remote regions where there is little human interference.
In the current study, scientists from Edinburgh analysed samples collected over five months taken from the air around various remote regions.
They found,on average, 249 fragments, 73 films and 44 fibres, were being deposited every day per square metre.
Employing a technique known as air mass trajectory analysis, the researchers calculated that the microplastics had been transported over a distance of 59 miles (95km).
The scientists say their findings show that microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport.
Microplastics can travel long distances via waterways and even being deposited from human clothing. But little research has looked at its transport by air in remote regions. They have shown up in the Arctic, where the process of freezing and melting sea ice makes it a good transporter of plastic particles
For the first time, microplastics have been found in mountain glaciers, confirming their widespread contamination of natural resources. Previously, they appeared in the Arctic, and researchers have now located them in the Forni Glaciers (pictured) in Switzerland
The process of freezing and melting sea ice in the Arctic makes it a particularly good transporter of plastic particles.
Even larvaceans found in the sea have been shown to provide a pathway for transporting microplastics into deep-sea food webs.
Recent expeditions to collect samples in the Arctic found record levels of microplastics and fragments that included polyethylene, nylon, polyester and cellulose acetate.
High levels of paint and nylon particles were also obtained.
Environmental charity WWF International has warned plastic waste in the oceans could reach 300 million tons in just over a decade.
That would double the amount of plastic in the ocean, which took more than half a century to build up between 1950 and 2016.
Almost a third of all plastics produced, or 104 million tons annually, will find their way into the oceans and natural world.
The full report of the study was published in Nature Geosciences.
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.