Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

'Plastic Rain' Is Pouring Down in National Parks

Popular
'Plastic Rain' Is Pouring Down in National Parks
A passing rainstorm at the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Pierre Leclerc Photography / Moment / Getty Images

The plastic crisis has polluted the world's oceans and created mountains in landfills. Microplastics have been identified wafting on the sea breeze and raining down on top of the Pyrenees. They travel on the winds and slowly drop down from the skies. Now, a new study has found that some of the most untouched areas of the U.S. are seeing 1,000 tons or more of microplastics rain down every year, according to The New York Times.


The study examined airborne microplastics in national parks in the American West. That means those hikes through the untouched land in Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree National Park are not providing the pristine, fresh air we thought they do.

The researchers found that nearly one-fourth come from nearby cities, while the rest drift through the air from far-flung locations. The findings, the first to discern the plastics' geographic origins, add to mounting evidence that microplastic pollution is a worldwide scourge, as Science reported.

"We created something that won't go away," says Janice Brahney, a biogeochemist at Utah State University and lead author on the new paper, according to Science. "It's now circulating around the globe."

The new study was published on Thursday in Science magazine and titled "Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States." The researchers noted that microplastics are found in "nearly every ecosystem on the planet."

To conduct the study, the researchers collected rainwater and air samples for 14 months to calculate how many microplastic particles fall into 11 protected areas in the west each year. They found tiny plastic particles in 98 percent of the 339 samples they collected. Microplastics made up 4 percent of the dust particles that were tested, according to The New York Times.

The 1,000 metric tons, or over 2.2 million pounds, that drops over 11 protected areas every year is equal to of over 120 million plastic water bottles, according to Wired.

"We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total US area," said Brahney, as Wired reported. "The number was just so large, it's shocking."

The plastic is trapped in fundamental atmospheric processes and falling all over the world, making plastic rain the new acid rain, according to Wired.

Microplastics are tiny particles that measure less than 5 millimeters in length. Most microplastics are fragments from larger pieces of plastic. Since plastics aren't biodegradable, when they end up in landfills or garbage heaps, they break down into microparticles and make their way through the earth's atmosphere, soil and water systems, according to The Guardian.

Considering that they have such a long life after their usefulness has expired, many microplastics could be traveling through natural systems for a long time.

"Plastics could be deposited, readmitted to the atmosphere, transported for some time, deposited and maybe picked up again," said Brahney, as The Guardian reported. "And who knows how many times and who knows how far they've travelled?"

Scientists have yet to conclude how all the plastic in the atmosphere affects animal and plant species, but the authors of this new study argue that the global community needs to work together to find a solution.

"The consequences to ecosystems are not yet well understood but are inescapable in the immediate future," the researchers wrote in their study, as CNN reported. "If the potential dangers posed by environmental microplastics are to be mitigated, both the scale of the solution and the level of cooperation that will be required call on the engagement of the global community."

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' "Doomsday Clock" — an estimate of how close humanity is to the apocalypse — remains at 100 seconds to zero for 2021. Eva Hambach / AFP / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

One hundred seconds to midnight. That's how close humanity is to the apocalypse, and it's as close as the world has ever been, according to Wednesday's annual announcement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group that has been running its "Doomsday Clock" since the early years of the nuclear age in 1947.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 13th North Atlantic right whale calf with their mother off Wassaw Island, Georgia on Jan. 19, 2010. @GeorgiaWild, under NOAA permit #20556

North Atlantic right whales are in serious trouble, but there is hope. A total of 14 new calves of the extremely endangered species have been spotted this winter between Florida and North Carolina.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are new lifestyle "medicines" that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients. Marko Geber / Getty Images

By Yoram Vodovotz and Michael Parkinson

The majority of Americans are stressed, sleep-deprived and overweight and suffer from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Being overweight or obese contributes to the 50% of adults who suffer high blood pressure, 10% with diabetes and additional 35% with pre-diabetes. And the costs are unaffordable and growing. About 90% of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for health care in the U.S. is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions. But there are new lifestyle "medicines" that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients.

Read More Show Less
Candles spell out, "Fight for 1 point 5" in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on Dec. 11, 2020, in reference to 1.5°C of Earth's warming. The event was organized by the Fridays for Future climate movement. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Taking an unconventional approach to conduct the largest-ever poll on climate change, the United Nations' Development Program and the University of Oxford surveyed 1.2 million people across 50 countries from October to December of 2020 through ads distributed in mobile gaming apps.

Read More Show Less
A monarch butterfly is perched next to an adult caterpillar on a milkweed plant, the only plant the monarch will lay eggs on and the caterpillar will eat. Cathy Keifer / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

Fall used to be the time when millions of monarch butterflies in North America would journey upwards of 2,000 miles to warmer winter habitat.

Read More Show Less