Microplastics are defined as any plastic fragment less than 5 millimeters in length, and at this point they have been found in every corner of the globe. They come from any number of sources – from rubber tires to paint and cosmetics to toothpaste tubes and synthetic clothing – and the ubiquitous nature of them in the environment has scientists worried about harm.
In fact, they are so ubiquitous at this point, that they’ve been documented falling with snow in the Arctic…even though there’s practically no people there.
A new report in Science Advances documents tiny plastic fibers found across two dozen Northern Hemisphere locations, from the remote Arctic ice to the Swiss Alps. Perhaps most concerning was finding that the “pristine” Arctic snow contained up to 14,400 microplastic particles per liter (snow in parts of rural Bavaria, in southern Germany, contained up to 154,000 ppl).
Because they’ve been found falling from the sky, there’s now a question of whether people might be breathing microplastics. Though scientists are currently uncertain what, if any, impact inhaling (inhaling!) them could have on humans and other wildlife, there have been plenty of documented cases of marine life ingesting larger plastic pieces to extreme detriment, and that might definitely lead one to worry, says Dr. Melanie Bergmann.
“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.”
Now that microplastics have fallen with the snow in the most remote Arctic locations, there can be no doubt that our addiction to plastics out of control. And if that’s not disturbing enough, we’re almost definitely breathing in small fibers every single day.
The pieces of plastic found in the study ranged from 11 micrometers to 5 millimeters and consisted of rubber, varnishes, and other forms of plastic.
Like plant pollen, the tiny fibers are swept up into the air where they tumble along in currents that flow from one end of the earth to the other, only to fall down with the rain or snow wherever it washes onto the earth.
Which is to say, we can’t escape the problem we’ve created.
The only question left is, how much is it hurting us?