Let it snow…plastic?

BBC News reported today that plastic is showing up in more areas of the environment than ever expected: now it’s been found in Arctic air.

A group of German and Swiss scientists studying environmental contamination in snow found samples in the Svalbard Islands containing more than 10,000 microparticles of plastic per liter of snow. (For the non-metric crowd, a liter is about 1/4 gallon or two pints.)

Crews with the Norwegian Coast Guard cleaned waste off the shorelines of remote islands in the Svalbard archipelago. [Photo credit, Arctic Today: Norwegian Coast Guard via The Independent Barents Observer]

The lead scientist, Dr Melanie Bergmann, told BBC News: “We expected to find some contamination but to find this many microplastics was a real shock.” She said: “It’s readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air.” Microplastics are below 5 mm (about 0.2″) in size.

The researchers think the plastics may be picked up by the wind and carried through the atmosphere until they encounter precipitation in the form of rain or snow, when they’re washed down to the ground. Fragments of rubber tires, varnish, paint and possibly synthetic fibers were also found in the Arctic snow.

According to the source article in Science Advances, the microplastics consist of a wide variety of source particles, so further study is needed to try to determine their origins and mechanisms of arrival in the Arctic. Potential impact on humans isn’t known either, but Dr Bergmann adds, “[W]e we need to take much better care of the way we’re treating our environment.”

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