'Punch in the gut' as scientists find micro plastic in Arctic ice

Study finds that it’s snowing microplastics in the Arctic

Study finds that it’s snowing microplastics in the Arctic

One intriguing aspect of the AWI study: the microplastic concentrations found are considera-bly higher than those in studies conducted by other researchers, e.g. on dust deposits. But the airborne particles found in this study add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that microplastics could be contributing to air pollution - and thus could be impacting the health of terrestrial life on Earth, including humans.

Snow samples from nine ice floes in the Farm Strait, which is between Greenland and the Norwegian island Svalbard, were examined by the researchers - with all but one of the sites containing measurable amounts of microplastics and microfibers. That was not as high as the European samples, which contained up to 154,000 particles per liter, but it was still unexpectedly high for a region that is supposed to be all but beyond the influence of humans, the researchers said. The United Nations estimates that 100 million tonnes of plastic have been dumped in the oceans to date.

"I was really astonished concerning the high concentrations", said senior author Gunnar Gerdts, a marine microbiologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.

Man-made fibres have been found in melted snow there - things like particles from rubber auto tyres and the plastic found in paint. "It's a global problem - and if we want to understand the sources and the sink, we really have to team up with other disciplines, other scientists, to get a full picture and finally to judge whether it's really unsafe or not".

"We had found high levels of microplastics in Arctic sea ice and deep-sea sediments in earlier studies, so we knew that it had to come from somewhere", Bergmann told Newsweek. "It's readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air", says Melanie Bergmann.

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"Microplastic concentrations in snow were very high, indicating significant contamination of the atmosphere", concluded the study published in the journal Science Advances.

"There are so many studies being published now on microplastics but nothing on human health, and that is really odd in my opinion". They also looked at samples from Bremen, a city in Germany, and a remote part of the Swiss Alps. "Secondly, it could be due to the infrared spectroscopy we used, which allowed us to detect even the smallest particles - down to a size of only 11 micrometres". "The worry with smaller particles is they can be taken up by a greater range of organisms and, if they reach nano-scale, they could penetrate cell membranes and translocate into organs much more easily than the larger fraction".

Microplastics from polymer-based protective coatings on vehicles, buildings and ships were the most common of those frequently found by the researchers, followed by rubber, polyethylene and polyamides including nylon. It found inhaled fibres were present in cancerous lung specimens and concluded: "These bioresistant and biopersistent plastic fibres are candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer". In addition, most research has focused on how animals or human beings absorb micro-plastic from what they eat.

"Microplastics are everywhere and ubiquitous and they're cycling in the water cycle, and we should think about this more broadly", she said.

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