Experts are warning that a new health and environmental crisis might be on the horizon as micro-plastics are increasingly finding their way into air particles and rain drops. In a new study published by Science, researchers discovered that even in the most isolated and wild areas of the United States, micro-plastics were still very much present in both precipitation and the air.
Micro-plastics are tiny chunks of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters long. They often come from fragmented plastic bottles and containers or microfibers that have frayed from worn clothing. These non-biodegradable materials get absorbed into Earth's atmospheric system, which then releases them back.
Researchers had hoped, however, that isolated regions such as national parks would be spared from the effects of micro-plastics. However, it appears not be to be the case.
After scientists collected both rainwater and air samples for over a year throughout various 11 protected areas in the western United States, they analyzed a stunning 1,000 metric tons of micro-plastic particles. According to Wired, that equals the same amount of plastic as around 120 million water bottles.
"We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total US area,"explained Janice Brahney, an environmental scientist at Utah State University and lead author of the study.
"The number was just so large, it's shocking," she added.
Overall, 98 percent of all samples contained micro-plastic particles. In addition, 4 percent of the samples captured from the air were synthetic polymers. Heavier particles tended to be found more often in rainwater, while lighter particles remained airborne.
"I was just completely floored to see little brightly-colored pieces of plastic in nearly every single sample," Brahney said.
Of the micro-plastic fibers found, microfibers from polyester clothing appeared to be the biggest culprit. They made up around 66 percent of material in wet samples and 70 percent in the air samples.
Worse still, microfibers were not the most concerning micro-plastic found. That dubious prize goes to microbeads, particles used in cosmetics and paints, though the United States banned its use in the former in 2015.
Though it is not yet known how micro-plastics will affect either human health or the environment, scientists have warned that preliminary studies have suggested that the outlook is far from good.
In addition, University of Strathclyde micro-plastic researcher Steve Allen has warned that the chemicals attached to the micro-particles could cause an even bigger issue.
"[The dangers are] also the chemicals that are on these plastics and in these plastics that can have an effect on the soil. A lot of that is still theoretical—we're still trying to work it out," he warned.
In other environmental news, Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a state of emergency after a major oil spill has swamped the arctic circle, as was previously reported by The Inquisitr.