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Microplastics Are Even In Ocean Waves and Air

Microplastics in marine environment Credit: Wikipedia

We can not get away from microplastics - the teeny, tiny plastic particles that are a result of plastics breaking up over time. They are everywhere, including the air over polar regions and in the air spewed out in the sea spray from waves.

Researchers sampled and analyzed air off the Norwegian coast up to the Arctic region. They found that all air samples contained microplastics. The plastic particles they found included polyester particles (from textiles), polystyrene, polypropylene, polyurethane, and tire wear particles (from driving and braking). Sources of the plastic particles came from both land (e.g., textiles, tire particles) and sea (e.g., boat paint).

Microplastics are plastic particles less than 5 mm (0.20 in) in length. Rain, water (e.g., seas, rivers), wind and air transport the plastic particles throughout the world. This microplastic pollution is of concern to all of us because we are breathing them in, and they are in the products we use (e.g., toothpaste), foods we eat, and the beverages we drink, including bottled water.

The big questions: What are the microplastic particles doing to us and wildlife? Are they getting into our organs? Are they causing chronic inflammation or other problems? Hint: Yes and yes, according to research. Even our lungs and blood.

From Science Daily: Oceans release microplastics into the atmosphere

Tiny plastic particles can be found in the sea air even far from coasts, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The microplastics come from partly unexpected sources.

Microplastic particles are present in the marine atmosphere even in remote parts of the world. These tiny particles come from land sources but are also re-emitted into the atmosphere from the sea, a study by a team of German and Norwegian researchers led by Dr. Barbara Scholz-Böttcher of the University of Oldenburg has shown. The scientists analysed air samples taken from various sites along the Norwegian coast all the way up to the Arctic region. The results have now been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

...The team used two different devices to collect air samples. The devices actively pumped in air and were mounted on the bow of the research vessel at a height of twelve meters.

Different types of plastics identified

The scientists analysed the air samples using pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. With this method they were able to identify and quantify the different types of plastics in the atmosphere through thermal degradation and selective analysis. They then performed model calculations and reconstructed the sources and distribution paths of the particles, each of which is just a few thousandths of a millimeter in size.

The analysis revealed the omnipresence of polyester particles. Polyethylene terephthalate particles, which presumably entered the atmosphere in the form of textile fibers, were detected in all samples. Other plastic types were also present, including polypropylene polycarbonate and polystyrene. Tire wear particles, the tiny debris abraded from tires during driving and especially braking, were identified as another major source of microplastics. The researchers measured concentrations of up to 37.5 nanograms (one nanogram = one-billionth of a gram) of microplastics per cubic metre of air. "These pollutants are ubiquitous. We find them even in remote polar regions," Goßmann stressed.

Microplastics find their way into seawater via rivers, but also through the atmosphere -- particles are washed out of the atmosphere by rain, for example. Another potential source is ship traffic: in an earlier study, a team led by Scholz-Böttcher demonstrated that in the open North Sea, the paint and coatings used on ships is the main source of microplastics. In the current study, chemicals such as polyurethanes and epoxy resins typically used in paints and coatings for ships were also found in the air samples.

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