Japanese scientists have revealed the alarming presence of microplastics within clouds, signaling potential climate impacts yet to be fully comprehended.
This discovery, documented in a research article published in the prestigious journal *Environmental Chemistry Letters*, sheds light on a critical environmental concern.
The investigative team embarked on a journey to ascend Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama, where they collected misty cloud water samples. Employing cutting-edge imaging techniques, they meticulously analyzed these samples, unraveling the physical and chemical attributes of the microplastics concealed within.
Their findings unveiled a startling reality: airborne microplastics, ranging in size from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometres, were identified, comprising nine different types of polymers and one rubber variant. Astonishingly, every litre (0.26 gallon) of cloud water subjected to testing contained between 6.7 to 13.9 pieces of these insidious plastics.
Lead author of the research, Hiroshi Okochi of Waseda University, delivered a stark warning, stating, “If the issue of ‘plastic air pollution’ is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing irreversible and serious environmental damage in the future.” Okochi further elucidated that when microplastics ascend to the upper atmosphere and undergo exposure to sunlight’s ultraviolet radiation, they degrade, thereby contributing to the greenhouse gas problem.
Microplastics, classified as plastic particles measuring under 5 millimetres, originate from diverse sources such as industrial effluent, textiles, synthetic car tires, personal care products, and more. They have already been discovered within marine life, Arctic sea ice, and the snows of the Pyrenees mountains connecting France and Spain. Nonetheless, the mechanisms governing their dispersal to such varied locations had remained elusive, with limited research on the transport of airborne microplastics.
In an unprecedented revelation, the researchers declared, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on airborne microplastics in cloud water.” Waseda University, in a somber statement, emphasized the consequences, noting that “microplastics are ingested or inhaled by humans and animals alike and have been detected in multiple organs such as lung, heart, blood, placenta, and faeces.”
The university further underscored the gravity of the situation, explaining, “Ten million tons of these plastic bits end up in the ocean, released with the ocean spray, and find their way into the atmosphere. This implies that microplastics may have become an essential component of clouds, contaminating nearly everything we eat and drink via ‘plastic rainfall.'” This revelation aligns with emerging evidence linking microplastics to adverse health effects on the heart and lungs, as well as the development of cancers, in addition to their widespread environmental harm.
The world now faces a pressing challenge to confront this unprecedented ecological threat, as scientists grapple with the profound implications of microplastics infiltrating even the skies above.