The World Daily
Study reveals airborne plastics are growing in number

A camp site in Arches National Park in Utah. Scientists were surprised to find tiny bits of plastic in remote areas. Photo:NewYorkTimes


By Patryk Krych | The World Daily | APRIL 13th 2021


A recent study has revealed the impacts of the rapidly chaotic spread of airborne microplastics across the world – and how such pollutive microplastics are steadily growing out of control.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, took to the study of microplastics that are found in the air we breath and live in – as opposed to the lands and oceans, as so many other studies tend to focus on.

In a process that one scientist who wasn’t involved in the study referred to as the steady “plastification” of the world, the research unveiled that the presence of plastics in the atmosphere is growing to become a natural cycle much like the carbon cycle. This is a troubling development, given the known toxic properties of plastics.

“What we’re seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it’s going to increase by tenfold [per decade],” said a member of the study team, Professor Natalie Mahowald, of Cornell University in the US. “But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere.”

The “plastification” and the presence of plastics in the world’s atmosphere is an impact of human pollution according to the analysis. It was concluded that the billions of pieces of plastics ending up broken down in oceans and roadsides end up swept up into the air, and are now even a detectible pollutant.

Plastics have been found as high up as Mount Everest and as deep below the oceans as the Mariana Trench. They’ve become an increasingly noticeable problem in the last decade, growing to be just as concerning as CO2 pollution if not more so.

 This means that not only humans, but also various animals and wildlife may end up consuming microplastics in higher quantities than previously expected. The scientists working on the study had added that this discovery “raises questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases.”

Prof Mahowald added that putting work into clearing up the world’s oceans and being more environmentally conscious towards plastics effects on our surroundings can help to eventually reduce the amount of microplastics that end up in the air.


In the Western parts of the US, they had found that rather than oceans, the main cause for at least 85% of the microplastics in the air were the roads. This is mainly from littered plastics that have gradually been ground down over time. Mahowald suggested that the use of more biodegradable plastics could be a potential solution.

“What humans have been doing for decades now is what I call a ‘plastification’ of the landscape and oceans,” said Professor Andrew Stohl of the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Earth Sciences, who wasn’t a part of the study team. “The study confirms the global-scale nature of microplastic transport in the atmosphere and does a good job in highlighting highly relevant and concerning possibilities, but more measurement data is needed to get a better idea of the sources.”

Stohl added that: “People should be concerned about airborne microplastics. Firstly, because they will inhale it and it is very likely that this will have some health impacts. And secondly, because the atmosphere is a great distributor. It transports plastic particles to regions where we definitely don’t want to have them: agricultural fields, national parks, oceans, the Arctic, even Antarctica. Eventually, we will have extremely high concentrations of plastics everywhere.”


By Patryk Krych | © The World Daily 2021