US Geological Survey: Microplastics are raining down on us
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
It is raining plastic in nature, says the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Based on the findings from a recent USGS report, better methods for "sampling, identification, and quantification of plastic deposition along with assessment of potential ecological effects are needed."
Why? The planet is becoming inundated by microplastics, negatively affecting marine life and posing health risks to populations around the world.
Specifically, the report says plastic is "raining" down on the Rocky Mountains. Microplastics have been found all over the world, though, including in the deep oceans and major ocean currents and trenches.
The Geological Survey’s study, titled "It is Raining Plastic," examined rainwater found in different parts of Colorado, including Rocky Mountain National Park. Ninety percent of the samples had plastic in them. The plastic was identified under a microscope. Various colors were observed, from blue, red, silver, purple, and green.
The authors of the report hypothesize that the plastic debris started as waste and litter, and fibers from synthetic clothes. The researchers did not set out to find plastics in nature and the discovery was unexpected.
Gregory Wetherbee, the lead author of the study, said: "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."
Wetherbee and the other researchers noted that to "calculate plastic wet-deposition loads is not possible with current (2019) technology" and that while more accurate methods of estimating plastic loads are needed, the conclusion is that it's raining plastic.
Samples were collected in plastic bag-lined buckets. Each sample was filtered to obtain particulates assumed to be washed from the atmosphere. Filters were dried, weighed, and manually analyzed with a microscope and digital camera. This study was not designed to find nor collect plastic samples, the government says.
“Methods for more accurate estimation of plastic loads are needed. Better quality control to limit cross-contamination and methods for estimation of percent recovery of the plastic materials from samples are needed,” the government said in its report. “Retaining filters for subsequent analysis would make a washout deposition network possible with very little added expense. How these plastic materials are accumulating and being assimilated in the environment is unclear, and the potential effects of these materials is not yet understood.”
The lasting impact of microplastics in the environment is not yet understood and may not be for years to come. Here's what we know now, regarding its impact: marine animals feed on the microplastics and ingest the pollutants.
The chemicals accumulate in the animal tissues and then increase in concentration as the contaminants are transferred up the food chain. Additionally, when plastics degrade and become brittle, they leach out BPA, with relatively little-known consequences.
There are now dangers to the environment that are just being discovered. There also are ways that microplastics are entering the environment, even though many of us don't think ourselves as the problem. For example, using electric dryers for our laundry deposits a tremendous amount of synthetic fabrics directly into the environment.
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