Microplastics Fall Like Rain in Protected Areas

Researchers identified and tracked the movement of microplastics, and discovered that they fall like rain in the wilderness and national parks. These findings were published by Utah State University researchers in the June edition of Science Magazine captioned as “Plastic Rain in Protected Areas of the U.S.”

Using high-resolution atmosphere-related deposition data, and by identifying samples of microplastics and other particulate matters gathered from 11 national parks and protected wildlife areas over a 14-month period, a team of USU researchers led by Assistant Professor Janice Brahney, were able to identify the sources of the microplastics. Once the microscopic particles spiral upward in the atmosphere, the researchers were able to track the locations where they fall and eventually be deposited as pollutants.

Professor Janice Brahney said that the data they collected about microplastics cycle reminds them of the global water cycle — having terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric lifetimes.

Microplastic life history in both wet and dry depositions, usually originate in cities and in populated urban centers. In those areas, the redistribution and reintroduction of microplastic materials in soils and surface waters pose as secondary sources.

Magnitude of the Microplastic Pollution in Western U.S.

Research studies conducted in watershed areas revealed that more than 1000 tons of microplastics, roughly the equivalent of 123 million PET plastic bottles, find their way each year in national parks and wilderness areas across the Western region of the United States.

Plastic materials are very useful in everyday lives because of their highly-resilient property and longevity. However, those same traits cause plastic to go into progressive fragmentation, instead of degradation.

As a result, once they are dry and light enough, they float, spiral and pollute the atmosphere. After which, the atmospheric accumulation will fall out as wet depositions; raining down on rivers, wastewaters and eventually in the world’s oceans.

Professor Brahney said they confirmed their findings by way of 32 varying particle scans, which were consistent in revealing that roughly 4% of the atmospheric particles found from remote locations were synthetic polymer materials.

The university lab researchers analyzed the microfibers as coming from industrial and clothing articles. Moreover, about 30% of the particles analyzed were in the form of brightly colored microbeads, which were acrylic by composition; like the substances used in the manufacture of industrial paints and coatings.