Climate change and the health of the planet are threatened by the presence of microplastics even in clouds. This is what a group of Japanese researchers confirmed in a study published in Environmental Chemistry Letters. According to their study, microplastics are present in clouds, where they likely influence the climate in ways not yet fully understood.
Lead author of the study, Hiroshi Okochi of Waseda University, explained: "If the problem of air pollution caused by plastic is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks could become a reality causing serious environmental damage and irreversible." Scientists climbed Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama to collect water from the mists that shroud their peaks, then applied advanced imaging techniques to the samples to determine their physical and chemical properties.
Microplastic also in clouds: it can aggravate climate change
The team identified nine different types of polymers and one type of rubber in airborne microplastics, ranging in size from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometers. Each liter of cloud water contained between 6.7 and 13.9 pieces of plastic.
Furthermore, hydrophilic or water-loving polymers were abundant, suggesting that the particles play a significant role in the rapid formation of clouds and therefore climate systems. When microplastics reach the upper atmosphere and are exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, they degrade, contributing to the production of greenhouse gases, Okochi added.
Microplastics, defined as plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters, come from industrial effluents, textiles, synthetic car tires, personal care products and more. These tiny fragments were discovered inside fish in the deepest recesses of the ocean that dots the Arctic sea ice and covers the snows of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain.
But the mechanisms of their transport are still unclear, and research on the air transport of microplastics in particular is limited. Both categories of microplastics have been found to persist in the environment in large quantities, especially in marine and aquatic ecosystems.
This is because plastic deforms but does not break down for many years, can be ingested and accumulate in the body and tissues of many organisms. The entire cycle and movement of microplastics in the environment has not yet been studied in depth, mainly due to the difficulty of analyzing a mixture of various types of more or less inert plastic.
77% of the blood of people tested by researchers at Vrije University in Amsterdam in 2022 was found to contain microplastics as they can travel through the body and settle in organs.