Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Microplastics found in snow from Alps to Arctic

Samples showed nearly 15,000 pieces of plastic per litre Samples showed nearly 15,000 pieces of plastic per litre Credit AWI SLF
Sandra Phillips | 17 August, 2019, 22:53

The fact that our oceans are full of plastic litter has by now become common knowledge: year after year, several million tonnes of plastic litter find their way into rivers, coastal waters, and even the Arctic deep sea.

Their findings showed that while the Arctic snow samples were lower than the other two sites, the quantities of microplastics were "unexpectedly high".

It was known that microplastics are picked up and transported by the wind, and scientists had speculated that snow could wash them from the air, leading to pollution on the land. Microplastics are airborne and can be transported through the atmosphere. "As such, these should also be monitored in air pollution monitoring schemes", Bergmann said.

Scientists at Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research said the sheer volume of microplastic particles they found in the region, which is often viewed as one of the last unpolluted parts of the planet, took them by surprise. That was not as high as the European samples, which contained up to 154,000 particles per liter, but it was still unexpectedly high for a region that is supposed to be all but beyond the influence of humans, the researchers said.

"I am here to show pure and clean snow and dogs and the Arctic nature and that's what I hope to do for the rest of my life and if it continues this way I will not be able to.when I hear that my heart is crying and I feel really, really bad", she said.

Similarly, dust from the Sahara can cover distances of 3,500km or more, reaching the north-east Atlantic. The researchers believe the microplastics may have made the long journey to the Arctic from urban regions through winds and precipitation.

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According to the researchers, a major portion of the microplastic in Europe, and even more in the Arctic, comes from the atmosphere and snow.

It found inhaled fibres were present in cancerous lung specimens and concluded: "These bioresistant and biopersistent plastic fibres are candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer".

Near the rural road in Bavaria, the samples contained various types of rubber which is used in countless applications, including in vehicle tyres. "Secondly, it could be due to the infrared spectroscopy we used, which allowed us to detect even the smallest particles - down to a size of only 11 micrometres".

The scientists melted the snow and poured it through a filter before examining the trapped residue with an infrared microscope.

Bergmann had previously found 12,000 microplastic particles per litre in samples of Arctic sea ice: "So we asked where does it all come from?"

"Microplastics are everywhere and ubiquitous and they're cycling in the water cycle, and we should think about this more broadly", she said. Melanie Bergmann, Sophia Mützel, Sebastian Primpke, Mine B. Tekman, Jürg Trachsel and Gunnar Gerdts. As Bergmann explains: "But once we've determined that large quantities of microplastic can also be transported by the air, it naturally raises the question as to whether and how much plastic we're inhaling".

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