Windborne Microplastics Are Everywhere
By Jordan Davidson
Plastic gets around. Previously, researchers had discovered fragments of microplastics in the world's most remote locations, like the depths of the Marianas Trench and Antarctica. New research has shown that microplastics rain down on the pristine peaks of the Pyrenees mountains.
The researchers found a daily rate of plastic pollution falling from the sky in the Pyrenees was comparable to the amount raining down on Paris and Dongguan, a large industrial city in China, NPR reported.
"It was incredible how much microplastic was being deposited," said Deonie Allen, a researcher at EcoLab in the School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Toulouse, France, as reported by National Geographic. There were no obvious sources for the microplastics within 60 miles, said Allen, the lead author of the study published Monday in Nature Geoscience.
The study is the first of its kind to show the how far microplastics can travel on the wind. Scientists had previously thought that atmospheric microplastic pollutants would rise up and settle again near the cities and industrial hubs where they originated.
The researchers looked at computer models of wind patterns to pinpoint the source of the microplastics, but none was found within a 60-mile radius of the region — which is sparsely populated and without commercial, industrial or large agricultural centers. While scientists know how dust gets blown and travels from the Sahara to Europe, they know very little about how microplastics move.
"We don't have this sort of material in nature," said Deonie Allen, as NPR reported. She noted that microplastics vary in shapes and density, which might alter how long they remain wind-borne. The researchers also suspect that rain or snow carries some particles down to the ground, but they don't need precipitation to fall to Earth, according to NPR.
Microplastics, which measure less than one-fifth of one-inch, have been shown to affect the health and reproductive systems of marine life. In fact, they were present in every marine mammal that researchers looked at in a recent British study. Microplastics also contaminated the drinking water, according to The Guardian.
The new study suggests that humans will not only consume microplastics, but also inhale them. "We ... don't know what they do to humans," said Allen to NPR. "They're a brand new [type of] pollution, but there's so much of it and it's increasing so fast that it's something we really need to start learning about."
Yet, there are some things we do know. Microplastics smaller than 25 microns can enter the human body through the nose or mouth and those less than five microns can end up in lung tissue. And, we know that microplastics tend to be sticky and accumulate heavy metals like mercury and persistent organic pollutants, including materials with known health impacts, according to National Geographic.
To make matters worse, the researchers say that atmospheric plastic pollution is nearly impossible to clean up, so the only solution is to produce less plastic, according to Science.
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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