Scientists discover microplastics in clouds

Thursday, 09/11/2023, 09:16 (GMT+7)

Scientists reveal that they could be contaminating nearly everything people eat and drink.

A recent study has revealed that tiny pieces of plastic are also present in our clouds. 

Intrepid teams of scientists climbed Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama to gather water samples from the misty cloud cover enveloping the mountain peaks. 

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Image Credits: AFP

Then, their sample was transported to laboratories, where advanced computer imaging was employed to analyze the physical and chemical properties of the water sourced from the clouds.

Published in Environmental Chemistry Letters, their study has also raised concerns regarding the prevalence of hydrophilic polymers, which capture and hold water.

In each liter of water collected, the researcher held between 6.7 to 13.9 plastic fragments, with sizes ranging from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometers, roughly equivalent to the diameter of a human hair.

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Image Credits: : iStock

Additionally, the researcher also warns that these microplastics descend to Earth as 'plastic rain', contaminating a wide range of food and beverages.

Hiroshi Okochi of Waseda University, the lead author, emphasized, 'If the issue of "plastic air pollution" is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing irreversible and serious environmental damage in the future.'

The research employed advanced imaging techniques to investigate the samples' physical and chemical characteristics, identifying nine different polymer types and one rubber type among the airborne microplastics, ranging from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometers in size. 

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Image Credits: : iStock

Okochi also noted that when microplastics enter the upper atmosphere and are exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, they break down, contributing to the production of greenhouse gases.

Microplastics, which are plastic particles measuring less than 5 millimeters, originate from various sources, including industrial effluent, textiles, synthetic car tires, personal care products, and more. 

These minuscule particles have been detected within deep-sea fish, distributed throughout Arctic sea ice, and covering the snow in the Pyrenees mountains that span the border between France and Spain.

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Nevertheless, the mechanisms governing their dispersion have remained unclear, with limited research dedicated to the airborne transport of microplastics. 

Recent findings have linked microplastics to a spectrum of health impacts, including heart and lung issues, cancer, and extensive environmental damage.