Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are polluting nearly every corner of the earth. Now, scientists have found microplastics landing on top of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France.
The plastics are known to cause reproductive issues in some marine mollusks and can be ingested and inhaled by humans. Prior studies showed that microplastics could rise into the atmosphere and come back to the ground around the cities they came from.
Researchers in the Pyrenees wanted to test how far these particles could travel, so they collected particles falling from the sky in dust, rain and snow for five months at a remote meteorological station in the Pyrenees Mountains. They discovered the particles can move well beyond their urban sources.
In a report published in Nature, the scientists found that an average of 365 plastic particles fell from above onto the square meter surface of their collection device.
The authors estimate that 2000 tons of plastic fall on France each year.
The test site for the research was 100 kilometers from the nearest city, making the findings even more alarming. Researchers have previously found dust particles from the Sahara Desert in the Pyrenees, which led them to believe the microplastics could travel even farther than 100 kilometers – even though dust particles are twice as large and twice as heavy as microplastics.
Microplastic particles in the atmosphere are almost impossible to remove from the air, so the only way to combat this issue is to produce less plastic in the first place.