HomeSafetyMicroplastics gone with the wind, contaminated even the air

Microplastics gone with the wind, contaminated even the air

A research published on 15.4.19 on 'Nature Geoscience'demonstrates how microplastics are carried by the wind over long distances, reaching areas far from productive settlements and inhabited centers. The surveys were carried out in an isolated area on the French side of the Pyrenees massif.

Plastics and microplastics, water and soil contamination

Mountains of plastic they are abandoned every day on land and in water, in every corner of the planet. Islands of plastic materials are formed in the seas, galaxies of their particles and chemical additives are widespread in the biosphere. The scientific community has defined as microplastics (MP) the set of particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm, nanoplastics (NP) those with dimensions less than 0,1 μm (100 nm).

Microplastics - also derived from the degradation of macroplastics and textile fibers (secondary MP), they reached the seas and oceans mainly through river transport. (1) And they migrate - together with the chemical-physical and microbiological contaminants of which they act as collectors - in the 'platisphere'. The waste water treatment plants, in turn, they are not able to filter MPs. Which are thus also transferred to the soils, through irrigation water and sludge used in the production of fertilizers.

The persistence of the particles allowed to detect their accumulation in aquatic ecosystems, at continuously increasing levels. The attention of research institutes towards this pollution factor is however still scarce. For example, information on the presence of microplastics in the atmosphere is lacking. With the exception of the only studies conducted so far in two megacities, Paris (France) and Dongguan (China), whose urban and suburban areas each exceed 10 million inhabitants. (2) The research in question therefore presents a novelty character and opens up new perspectives on research areas that need to be developed to measure the actual impact of the plastic cycle on the biosphere.

Microplastics and atmospheric pollution

Researchers by CNRS (Center National de la Recherche Scientifique, F), Universities of Toulouse and Orleans (F) and Strathclyde (Scotland, UK) performed measurements at the Bernadouze weather station (Ariège, Occitania, F). At 1500 meters above sea level, over 5 km from the nearest village and about 120 km from Toulouse, the only major city in the region. Samples were taken every day, for a period of five months, during the winter of 2017-2018. (3)

'Our main discovery is that microplastics are carried into the atmosphere and deposited in an isolated high mountain area, far from any major city or local source of pollution. This allows us to qualify microplastics as a air pollutant'(Deonie Allen, co-author of the research)

Analyzes demonstrate the concentration in the atmosphere of fibers (<750 μm) and fragments (≤ 300 μm) identified as microplastics. In quantities comparable to those found in Paris, with an average daily count of 249 fragments, 73 films and 44 fibers per square meter. An analysis of the trajectory of the air mass shows the microplastic transport through the wind for about 95 km. And yet, given the state of the places, it is not possible to indicate the total distance actually traveled by the identified MPs. (4)

Microplastics and us

The research under consideration traced most of the micro-particles detected in the atmosphere to the 'families' of polystyrene (41% of the samples), polyethylene (32%) and polypropylene (18%). Materials derived mainly from disposable plastic objects, packaging, plastic bags and fabrics. And it is good to remember that nanoplastics they can be easily absorbed also from our tissues, organs and cells.

'This study it throws our responsibilities in the face. For fifty years of massive use of plastic objects. And also for the clothes and fabrics in synthetic fibers that we have all been wearing for thirty to forty years'(Johnny Gasperi, Lecturer at the Water, Environment and Urban Systems Laboratory, University of Paris-Est-Créteil).

The SUP directive (Single-Use Plastics Directive) has recently introduced limits, prescriptions and prohibitions of use on some disposable plastic objects. With yet another political compromise which has certainly not disappointed the industry. One blow to the rim and one to the barrel, obviously in plastic.

The plastic cups disposables have been excluded from the bans (which apply only to those in expanded polystyrene, now used in fast food to keep drinks warm). And they remain at the top of the list of the stupidest single-use plastic items. Problematic for public health and for the environment, they can be replaced very easily (thanks to glass and rather also to cardboard).

It is up to us now take responsibility for our gestures e TO REDUCE to an absolute minimum the purchase and use of plastic materials (disposable and non-disposable), whenever an alternative exists. Going back to glass syringes is unrealistic, but rejecting glasses and plastic bottles in public establishments is a must. Until they disappear from disuse. Choosing and expecting clothes and fabrics'100% natural fibers'(eg wool, cotton, hemp, linen) a second action, among the many examples of our daily life that must change. Pressure from below is urgent for only consumers, more than cheap politicians, can truly impose a change in the market and in society.

Dario Dongo


(1) Textile fibers are estimated to represent 16% of the world production of plastic materials. 'The degradation of these fibers produces fibrous microplastics (MPs). Such MPs were observed in atmospheric precipitation, as well as in indoor and outdoor environments. Some fibrous MPs can be inhaled. Of these, (…) some may persist in the lung causing localized biological responses, including inflammation. ' See Johnny Gasperi, Bruno Tassin. (2018). 'Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in?'Current Opinion on Environmental Science & Health 1, 1-5, 2018.

(2) 'Concentrations of microplastics and non-fibrous fibers ranged from 175 to 313 particles / m2 / day in atmospheric precipitation. Therefore, the emission of dust and the deposition between the atmosphere, the earth's surface and the aquatic environment have been associated with the transport of microplastics.'See Liqi Cai, Jundong Wang, Jinping Peng et al. (2017). 'Characteristics of microplastics in the atmospheric fallout from Dongguan city, China: preliminary research and first evidence'. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2017) 24: 24928.

(3) A previous study demonstrated the ability of mineral particles of similar size to microplastics (450 μm) to travel distances of up to 3.500 km. 

See Michèlle van der Does, Peter Knippertz et al. (2018). 'The mysterious long-range transport of giant mineral dust particles'. Science Advances. doi: 10.1126 / sciadv.aau2768

(4) Steve Allen, Deonnie Allen et al. (2019). 'Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment'. Nature Geoscience.

+ posts

Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Find out how your data is processed.

Related Articles

Latest Articles

Recent Commenti

Translate »