Perhaps you’re one of those people who likes to put out their tongue to catch snowflakes, but after reading a new study on microplastic pollution, you may want to think again.
In a new study, researchers from Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands have estimated that close to 43 trillion miniature plastic particles land in Switzerland every year.
Microplastic pollution: a growing menace
It seems that each week brings a new story about the staggering scale of plastic pollution afflicting the world today, and this new study will only add to the growing alarm on the subject.
The team of researchers wanted to determine exactly how much plastic is falling back to Earth from the atmosphere. They focused on a small region located at an altitude of 3,106 meters, situated at the tip of the mountain “Hoher Sonnenblick” in the “Hohe Tauern” National Park in Austria. There has been an observatory there since 1886.
Each morning, the researchers collected a portion of the top layer of snow and carefully stored it. They then collected the microplastic particles and, using European wind and weather data, traced each particle’s origin.
The researchers discovered that most microplastics entering the atmosphere come from densely populated and urban areas. Around 30 percent of the microplastics found on the mountain top come from just 124 miles away, an area consisting of mostly urban regions.
But cities weren’t the only source of plastic in the air. The researchers found that plastics from the oceans were making their way into the air, via the spray produced by waves. Roughly 10 percent of measured particles that landed on the mountain appear to have come from winds and weather taking place in the Atlantic Ocean – just over 1,200 miles away.
Although the authors are cautious about exact numbers, they estimate that as much as 3,000 tons of microplastics blanket Switzerland annually. This includes the Swiss Alps but also the nation’s urban lowlands.
This new research is noteworthy, since previous research on microplastics in the air has been limited. To count the plastic particles, the authors even devised a new chemical method which could determine the amount in a given sample using a mass spectrometer.
Plastic: the threat to human health
The impact on marine ecosystems has been one of the most consistent focuses of research into microplastics, with some alarming findings, but the potential impact on humans should be just as worrying.
Research is starting to reveal that microplastics can disrupt natural processes including cell formation.
A new study has shown, for instance, that microplastics can alter the shape of human lung cells and affect their functioning.
As a press release for the research notes: “After only a few days, the scientist began to observe some strange changes take pace, finding that the plastic particles caused the cells’ metabolism to slow down and hampered their proliferation and growth.”
The microplastics didn’t kill the lung cells, but they did alter their function and integrity in ways that are seriously worrying and suggest that people with lung conditions could be at elevated risk of harm from these microscopic pieces of plastic.
Studies show that the smallest microplastics are likely capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier after people inhale them into their lungs. This means it’s quite likely plastic microplastics eventually circulate through the bloodstream.
Shocking microplastic pollution in the home: nearly 100 times higher than predicted!
A new study of microplastic pollution in the home has revealed that we may be breathing in up to 7000 microplastic particles a day, 100 times the amount the researchers predicted.
Experts say microplastic pollution now has the potential to be a health threat that ranks alongside, or is worse than, asbestos and tobacco.
The research was commissioned for the British television program Good Morning Britain, and aired on an exclusive special this morning.
As well as disrupting physical processes, microplastics are also carriers of toxic xenoestrogens, industrial chemicals that have disastrous gender-bending effects.
These chemicals are believed to be one of the principal causes of a calamitous decline in fertility that could bring about the end of human reproduction as we know it.
By 2045, according to Professor Shanna Swan, the majority of men may no longer be able to reproduce because of the effects of harmful chemicals from a variety of common household sources.
“We’re about 40 years behind global warming, in terms of awareness,” she says – yet the threat to human survival is just as great as, if not greater than, our concerns about greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Swan’s projections from the available data, by 2045 the sperm count of the median man will reach zero – meaning that one half of all men will have no sperm at all, and the other half will have an amount that is barely more than zero. Functionally, all men will be infertile.
The implications should be obvious: no sperm, no babies. Such a scenario has already been dubbed ‘Spermageddon’.
The question is: what can we do to reduce our exposure to these harmful particles, before it’s too late?
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