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.

Studies Reveal that Undetected Nano and Microplastic Wastes Cause Environmental Harms

Researchers from the Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials and the University of Surrey revealed that plastic wastes occurring in waste streams undergo further break down into minute particles; raising environmental concerns about the possible catastrophic impact of the tiny plastic particles on aquatic systems and human health.

Studies conducted by Dr Ludovic Dumée at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials, and Dr Judy Lee and Marie Enfrin, both from the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, looked into the occurrence of microplastics in water.

They found out that when undergoing waste treatment processes, plastic wastes break down into minute particles, in nano and micro sizes. The study also observed that the presence of microplastics in water impaired the performance of natural treatment plants, which as a result disparages the quality of water.

The team’s findings were published in the Journal of Water Research last September 09, 2019.

Detection of Nano and Microsized Plastics Poses an Environmental Challenge

The high point of the University of Surrey’s study is the difficulty in spotting and discerning the presence of microplastics in treatment systems.

Project leader, Dr Lee, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Surrey, remarked that

“The presence and related detection of nano and microplastics in water have become major environmental challenges.” “Nano and microplastics can easily be ingested by living organisms, as well as travel along water and wastewater treatment processes”. “When occurring in large quantities, they clog up filtration units of water treatment processes, which impacts performance, as well as increase the wear and tear on elements used in water treatment units.”

Dr. Lee’s remarks were based on research that shows an approximation of about 300 million tons of plastic materials are annually produced worldwide. Up to 13 million tons of which, flow into rivers and oceans. The research team estimates that by 2025, approximately 250 million tons of plastic will have been released into oceans and rivers.

Plastic materials as we all know, are generally not degradable by way of ageing or weathering, and therefore likely to accumulate and pollute aquatic environments.

In order to address major concerns on how nano and microplastics can diminish water quality to one that does not meet safety standards, as well as the threats they pose to the Earth’s ecosystems, it is important that improved detection strategies are in place. That way, the occurrence of nano and microplastics in wastewater treatment systems and in bodies of water will be limited.