Tiny microplastics travel far on the wind

a photo of the Pyrenees Mountains
FAR-FLUNG TRASH Researchers measured an atmospheric deposition rate of microplastics at a remote site in the Pyrenees Mountains (shown) that was similar to rates measured within Paris.

Plastic pollution from Paris doesn’t necessarily stay in Paris.

Tiny bits of plastic that originated in cities were carried by wind to a remote mountain location at least 95 kilometers away, a study finds. It’s the first demonstration that microplastics, tiny particles ranging from a few nanometers to 5 millimeters in size, can travel far through the atmosphere.

Even more startling is how much microplastic fell from the sky in such a remote location, the researchers say. The study’s findings suggest that the rain of microplastics in some far-flung places may rival that of some large cities.

“We found them somewhere they shouldn’t be,” says atmospheric and environmental scientist Deonie Allen of EcoLab in Castanet-Tolosan, France, who coauthored the study.

The researchers set up two types of atmospheric deposition collectors at the Bernadouze meteorological station, in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. The scientists visited the site roughly once a month from November 2017 to March 2018 to retrieve the samples, and then analyzed the collected particles to separate, identify and count the bits of plastic.

An estimated 365 microplastic particles per square…

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