|Plastics can be found anywhere, from our house to our utensils. Now, researchers have discovered that they are inside our bodies as well / Photo by: Oregon State University via Flickr|
Plastics can be found anywhere, from our house to our utensils. Now, researchers have discovered that they are inside our bodies as well. These plastics, called microplastics, are small plastic pieces that are less than five millimeters long.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology showed that there’s a possibility that humans consume between 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles every year. When added to how much microplastic might be inhaled, that number could increase by more than 74,000. Last month, the most comprehensive study to date of microplastics in California revealed that an estimated seven trillion pieces of microplastics flow into the San Francisco bay through stormwater drains alone.
According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, treated wastewater contributed an additional 17 billion particles of plastic to the San Francisco bay. “It was basically everywhere we looked,” Rebecca Sutton, an environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, said. Aside from that, a new analysis in the UK discovered that there’s microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers ,and reservoirs the researchers studied. In the River Tame alone, the team found more than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per liter.
“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did. It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic,” lead author Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales said.
Raining Plastics in the Rocky Mountains
A team of researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) was analyzing rainwater samples for nitrogen pollution from the Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, located in western North America. They then found something they weren’t expecting: plastics.
In the recent study titled “It is raining plastic,” the researchers found a rainbow of plastic fibers in the rainwater samples they collected across Colorado. These findings shocked the team and suggested that plastic particles could travel with the wind for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers. While this is a surprise for some, experts stated that we should expect situations like this since past studies have shown that microplastics were previously found in US groundwater and in the deepest reaches of the oceans.
“I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye. It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now,” Gregory Wetherbee, a research chemist at the US Geological Survey, said.
|A team of researchers from USGS was analyzing rainwater samples for nitrogen pollution from the the Rockies, located in western North America. They then found something they weren’t expecting: plastics / Photo by: Todd Petrie via Flickr|
According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, the researchers revealed that plastic showed up in 90% of the samples, mostly in fiber form. They also come in a variety of colors, including blue, red, silver, purple, green, yellow and other colors. While it’s not sure where those microplastics came from, the fact remains that these particles are literally found anywhere on our planet.
Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher and sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend, stated that a major contributor to this problem is the world’s trash. Since more than 90% of plastic waste is not recycled, it only degrades slowly and breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. Unfortunately, there are not enough studies that would quantify the number of microplastics we have on our planet now. Also, scientists are still not sure whether it would be theoretically possible to flush all plastic out of the natural world, and how long that might take.
“Even if we waved a magic wand and stopped using plastic, it’s unclear how long plastic would continue to circulate through our rivers waters systems,” Mason said.
Impacts of Microplastics on Environment
Every year, 5 million to 14 million tons of plastics flow into our oceans from coastal areas. A huge percentage of it becomes microplastics that can affect aquatic creatures. According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, they block the creatures’ digestive tracts, diminish their urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior. Worse, their stomachs become stuffed with so many microscopic fibers, they starve and die.
Microplastics have chemical aspects as well since they contain free-floating pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals. Most of the time, marine animals mistakenly feed on these, while also ingesting the toxic pollutants. The chemicals accumulated in the animal tissues are transferred up the food chain, until they reach our dinner plates. About 114 pieces of microplastic settle on a dinner plate during the 20-minute duration of a meal.
A study has also shown that household dust can be a source of microplastics. Thus, there’s a possibility that people could breathe in microscopic plastic particles. These tiny fibers can also be consumed through drinking water. The non-profit journalism organization Orb Media reported that 93% out of all the 259 bottles they tested had some sort of microplastic particles.
Indeed, microplastics are slowly making their way to almost every space on the planet, without our even noticing them. This poses a huge danger not only to humans and animals, but also to our environment.
|Every year, 5 million to 14 million tons of plastics flow into our oceans from coastal areas. A huge percentage of it becomes microplastics that can affect aquatic creatures / Photo by: Raceforwater via Wikimedia Commons|