Microplastics are some of the Earth’s tiniest and most insidious enemies. These tiny bits of plastic are found in countless consumer products including cosmetics, tires, cigarettes and toothpaste, and when they collect in bodies of water and other natural areas, they can pose serious environmental hazards and health risks.
In fact, a new study reveals that microplastics have even polluted Alpine snow and Arctic ice. The implications of these discoveries are huge, since obviously, not many people are throwing glitter and using body scrub at two of the most remote places on Earth.
How did the microplastics get there? The study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, posits that the tiny particles become airborne and, when swept up into the Earth’s atmosphere, can be transported virtually around the globe.
Researchers tested several samples from ice floes in the Arctic region, as well as snow samples from more urban places across Europe. Microplastics were present in all the samples in Europe and in all but one Arctic sample.
Although this alone is bad news for the environment, the way in which microplastics, or MPs, are delivered to such remote areas has other dangerous implications.
“The large concentrations of MPs and microfibers in snow highlight the importance of the atmosphere as a source of airborne MPs and microfibers,” the study reads. “Through this pathway, MPs likely find their way into soil and aquatic environments and therefore also into food chains.”
In other words, if microplastics are found in pristine Arctic ice, they’re probably being breathed in, lived in and eaten by animals in other ecosystems.
If microplastics are being swirled around the atmosphere, the study says, we’re breathing them in, as well. And that could have serious health consequences.
“The high MP concentrations detected in snow samples from continental Europe to the Arctic indicate significant air pollution and stress the urgent need for research on human and animal health effects focusing on airborne MPs,” the study says.