Airborne Microplastics Increasing Rapidly; Raises Concerns Over Human Health Impact

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A recent study has discovered that airborne microplastics pollution has spread across the world. Microplastic pollution could also be found on mountain tops including the Forni Glacier on Santa Caterina Valfurva in Italy.

Many researchers have informed that human pollution now has resulted in a plastic cycle worldwide. According to their research study, this pollution is very similar to the natural processes like the carbon cycle that leads to the movement of plastic in the atmosphere, land, and oceans. As a result, the planet is suffering from ‘plastification’.

Moreover, the analysis has also stated that airborne microplastics pollution can be considered as one of the largest and pressing environmental problems of this 21st century. The study has mentioned that a billion tonnes of plastic waste are dumped into water bodies worldwide.

Plastics are also discarded in the land that eventually gets broken down into smaller pieces. Furthermore, these tiny airborne microplastics get thrown back into the air by means of road traffic, winds over farmland and seas, and human activities.

These smaller plastic pieces are being inhaled by human beings through breathing, eating, and drinking processes on a daily basis. Scientists have said that the rising levels of airborne microplastics raise the crucial question regarding their impact on human health. Inhaling plastic particles might cause irritation to the lung tissues as well as lead to many serious diseases.

Read Phthalates- What Are They And How Do They Affect Us?

Atmospheric Accumulation Of Airborne Microplastics

Natalie Mahowald is a Professor at the Cornell University in the United States of America. She is also part of a team of researchers studying airborne microplastics. She remarked that this accumulation of unmanaged plastics is increasing going up and might ultimately increase tenfold every decade.

She has further added that human actions may resolve this issue before it becomes out of control. If humans manage the plastics in a better way before accumulating and circulating in the atmosphere, this problem can be curbed.

She has also suggested that we must try to clean up the oceans and remove the plastics. This will certainly help in reducing the number of plastics discarded that get flung back into the environment. In addition, if the plastics are more biodegradable then it becomes easier to get the desired solution.

Airborne Microplastic


Credits Janice Brahney

Research Findings On Plastic Pollution

The ongoing research on airborne microplastics was published in the journal titled ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’. The research paper analyzed the plastics in the atmosphere that is less studied compared to the plastic pollution in water bodies.

The team of researchers had over 300 airborne microplastics samples collected from eleven sites all over the western part of the US which is the best available dataset globally. The atmospheric modeling was based on the estimation of the contribution from various sources. This was the first-ever study of this form.

It was found that the discarded plastics in towns and cities did not generate airborne microplastics. On the other hand, the winds over farmland and oceans and road traffic led to the whipping up of plastic particles present in our environment.

Mahowald informed that population centers will prove to better sources but they failed. Resuspension of smaller plastic particles was the ideal dataset. They also discovered that the dominant factor was the roads in the western US and resulted in almost 85% of airborne microplastics. These included plastic particles in brake pads and tires of vehicles. Whereas, oceans estimate 10% and the soils 5%.

Read Quitting Single-Use Plastics: A Major Step Towards Building A Safer World

Global Model Of Airborne Microplastics Generation

The researchers have expanded their work of modeling to a global level. This indicated that even though roads remain the dominant factor for airborne plastics across South America, Australia, and Europe, Asia and Africa have other reasons. The majority of their plastic particles get blown up from the farms and fields.

Additionally, the modeling work revealed that tiny microplastics remain in the environment for almost 1 week. This time is enough for it to be swirled across continents. Moreover, plastic pollution might soon reach Antarctica.

Scientists have stated that the lack of interpretations in various parts of the globe suggested there were important uncertainties in the estimates made. The work also specifically showed the absence of data on airborne plastics above the seas and oceans. They have emphasized prioritizing the source as well as the consequences of airborne microplastics on the atmosphere.

Andreas Stohl is a Professor of Earth Sciences at Vienna University. Although he is not a part of this plastic particles research team, he mentioned that ‘plastification’ is the actions of humans for the past few decades on this planet. This has adverse and large-scale repercussions on the oceans and landscapes.

Impacts Of Plastification

Stohl has also stated that the study has confirmed the global effect of transporting microplastics through the atmosphere. They also emphasized the pressing concerns and possibilities along with the measurement data to provide a better idea of the source and consequences.

Stohl harped on the fact that humans must be concerned about the problem of airborne microplastics, foremost, because we inhale them and it causes severe health issues. Secondly, the atmosphere is a big distributor as it transports microplastics to remote regions including agricultural fields, oceans, national parks, the Arctic, and Antarctica. Finally, plastic concentration will become extremely high everywhere.

Airborne microplastics have also successfully managed to reach the highest summit on the planet, Mount Everest as well as down to the deepest ocean floor. During the month of December, it was shockingly found that tiny plastic particles have also reached the human placenta. The scientists consider this a matter of huge concern.

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