A disheartening new report reveals the extent to which microplastics are corrupting the natural beauty of our planet.
It’s been discovered microplastics have have contaminated snow in the Arctic, as well as other icy, remote regions of the Northern Hemisphere. This includes the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, and the Swiss Alps.
It’s believed most of the material originated in Northern Europe, demonstrating the role of wind in transporting microplastics across the globe.
The snow in the Arctic was found to contain up to 14,400 tiny plastic particles per litre, believed to have been ferried long distances by the Gulf Stream and strong Atlantic currents. Even greater numbers – an average of 24,600 per litre – were discovered at European locations.
This study was conducted by scientists at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, with their worrying findings published in the journal Science Advances.
The team measured the quantity of microplastics by filtering meltwater before studying the residue under an infrared microscope.
Unearthed microplastics were primarily made up of multi-coloured fibres of plastics such as rubber and varnishes. Microplastics from polymer-based protective coatings used on buildings, vehicles, and ships were most frequently found by researchers, followed by rubber, polyethylene and polyamides.
These findings have raised grave concerns in regard to the health risks posed to humans and animals breathing in airborne microplastics, with researchers stressing the importance of further research.
In a statement, marine ecologist and lead study author Dr Melanie Bergmann made the following comments:
To date, there are virtually no studies investigating the extent to which human beings are subject to microplastic contamination,
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.
Older findings from medical research offer promising points of departure for work in this direction.
The high concentrations of microplastics found in snow samples indicate significant levels of air pollution, highlighting the urgent need for research into human and animal health effects.
Chronic inhalation of microplastics could lead to health issues such as respiratory irritation, allergic alveolitis, inflammation, fibrosis, and genotoxicity.
According to Science Advances, microplastics could even contribute towards the risk of lung cancer, particularly amongst those who don’t smoke.
In June, a separate study – published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology – revealed how human beings inadvertently digest at least 50,000 microplastic particles each year, with some pieces being small enough to penetrate human tissue.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.