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"Plastic rains" constitute an environmental disaster

More than a century ago, American natural history scientist John Muir wrote, "Come to the forests, they are home to comfort and stillness." That may not be true anymore. Even forests and foothills are threatened by plastic invasion from cities. "Plastic rain" is not just a controversial theory or hypothesis, it has become a worrying reality.
"Plastic rains" constitute an environmental disaster

Plastic Rain

The term "plastic rain" refers to spray loaded with microplastic particles, measuring 5 millimetres or less. The sources of these molecules are multiple, which may result from the breakdown of larger plastics, the use of personal care products containing plastic particles, or often the waste and exhaust of many industrial processes such as clothing, textile and others.

Microplastic rains can have serious environmental and health effects, as they are easily inhaled or swallowed by animals and humans for their exact size, which can have negative effects on health such as respiratory diseases. Therefore, understanding the sources and effects of precise "plastic rain" is important for developing strategies to reduce its spread in the environment and mitigate its negative effects.

According to a research team from The University of Auckland in New Zealand, approximately 5 thousand microplastic molecules are the average amount of daily falling and settling on every square metre of Auckland city rooftops, according to the Science Alert report.

The study was published by Environmental Science & Technology ES&T on 2 December.

The amount of plastic carried by this spray - the course of study - is estimated at 74 metric tons of plastic each year, equivalent to about 3 million plastic bottles, and this large amount of plastic far exceeds that recently observed in London, Hamburg or even Paris.

Researchers at all sites have detected the remains of 8 different types of atmospheric plastic. "Polyethylene" (PE) used with grocery bags and pressure packagings topped the list of observed microplastics, which was the most concentrated, and then dissolved the second "polycarbonate" (PC) used with protective equipment and medical devices, while "polyethylene terephthalate" (PETE) used in food and beverage packaging came in.

Plastic particles.. How to move and what to focus?

The number of microplastics spotted in Auckland tends to increase when coastal winds are exceptionally strong, and results suggest that plastic particles carried in the atmosphere around the city have crept into them by those winds and coastal waves.

Joel Rindlaub, one of the researchers involved in the study, says that "the emergence of these atmospheric diffuse materials, as a result of crawling waves, can be an essential reason for their spread around the world, and can also explain the mechanism of atmospheric transport of these materials as well as their movement to as far afield as New Zealand."
It is difficult to quantify precisely the amount of microplastic particles in the atmosphere, as they can vary greatly depending on location, season and other factors, besides there is no single approved method of measurement. However, some studies have tried to measure the concentration of atmospheric plastic molecules, finding that they can be very high in certain areas.

A recent study was conducted in the United States to assess the wind and rain transport of plastic particles on reserves in the country's south and central west. This study estimates the amount of plastic particles - likely to fall with precise rain in these regions alone - at more than 1,000 metric tons per year, while another estimated that the equivalent of 120 million plastic water bottles of these particles would fall from the sky with rain each year.

In addition to those findings, one empirical study conducted in Europe monitored the presence of microplastic particles in the remote Pyrenees region. The concentration of substances in the atmosphere was found to be 365 particles per cubic metre of air and another study conducted in China resulted in an atmospheric concentration of microplastics to 1,200 particles per cubic metre of urban air and up to 680 particles per cubic metre of rural air.

Potential effects

Plastic currently accounts for 85% of all marine waste. By 2040, it will almost double 3 times, adding between 23 million and 37 million metric tons of waste to the ocean each year, which means adding about 50 kilograms of plastic per metre. This will place marine life at risk of poisoning, biological disorder, famine and asphyxiation.

Human beings also face a threat. By eating seafood contaminated with plastic residues, their bodies will have to face many risks to health. These substances penetrate the skin and are inhaled when they are stuck with air. They may also cause hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and even cancer if they are transmitted to humans through water sources.

Plastic pollution may also have serious consequences for the global economy, when calculating the impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, other than the prices of projects such as cleaning and recycling, estimated at between $6 and $19 billion annually, during 2018.
According to the United Nations Plastic Pollution Report, by 2040 companies could suffer an estimated $100 billion in annual financial risks, if requested by Governments to cover waste management costs. This can also lead to an increase in illegal disposal of domestic and international waste.
"Plastic rains" constitute an environmental disaster

What do we do?

Plastic is everywhere and we can't turn a blind eye to it. Perhaps the most obvious solution on our hands to reduce the effects of plastic rain is to prevent and remove plastic waste from the environment, by further reducing our use of plastic, preventing this substance from entering our environment by improving waste management, as well as removing plastic waste in our ocean through recycling programmes.

No one can yet say the magnitude of the impact that airborne plastic particles have on human health, and the smaller those molecules, the more likely they are to be transmitted to our cells during breathing and the higher the likelihood of damage.


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