IN WHAT LOOKS like a pristine, remote mountain region, tiny pieces of plastic pollution were found raining down from the sky—raising questions about the global extent of plastic pollution—a first-of-its-kind study has found.
Scientists recorded a daily rate of 365 microplastic particles per square meter falling from the sky in the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.
“It was incredible how much microplastic was being deposited,” said Deonie Allen, a researcher at EcoLab in the School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Toulouse, France. There were no obvious sources for the microplastics within 60 miles (100 kilometers), said Allen, the lead author of the study published Monday in “Microplastic is a new atmospheric pollutant,” Allen said.
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic waste. Their presence in oceans and waterways has received a great deal of scientific and media attention in recent years. However, only two previous studies have looked for the presence of microplastics in the air. Both were in cities and their results were comparable, says Allen. Microplastics in the air appear to be ubiquitous.
If you go outside with a UV light, set at a wavelength of 400 nanometers, and shine it sideways you’ll see all kinds of plastic particles in the air fluoresce,” she said. “It’s almost worse indoors. It’s all a bit terrifying.”