(ORDO NEWS) — Tiny particles, including tire dust, found in 50-year-old ice cores, suggesting global plastic pollution
Nanoplastic pollution was first detected in the polar regions, indicating that these tiny particles are now distributed throughout the world.
Nanoparticles are smaller and more toxic than microplastics, which have already been found around the world, but the impact of both types on human health is unknown.
Analysis of a core from the Greenland ice cap has shown that nanoplastics have been polluting the remote region for at least 50 years. The researchers were also surprised to find that a quarter of the particles came from car tires.
The nanoparticles are very light, and it is believed that they are carried to Greenland by the wind from the cities of North America and Asia. Nanoplastics found in sea ice at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica were most likely transported by ocean currents to a distant continent.
Plastic is part of a cocktail of chemical pollution permeating the planet that has crossed the safe limit for humanity, scientists said on Tuesday. Plastic pollution has been found from the top of Everest to the depths of the oceans. Humans are known to inadvertently eat and breathe microplastics, and a recent study found that these particles cause damage to human cells.
Dusan Materić of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who led the new study, said: “We have found nanoplastics in the farthest corners of the Earth, both in the southern and northern polar regions. Nanoplastics are very toxicologically active compared to, for example, microplastics, and therefore it is very important”.
The Greenland ice core was 14 meters deep, representing layers of snow that fell in 1965. “The surprise for me was not that we found nanoplastic there, but that we found it throughout the entire depth of the core,” Materich says. “So while nanoplastics are considered a new pollutant, they’ve actually been around for decades.”
Microplastics have already been found in Arctic ice, but Materich’s team had to develop new detection methods to analyze much smaller nanoparticles. Previous work has also suggested that tire dust may be a major source of microplastics in the ocean, and the new study provides real evidence.
A new study published in the journal Environmental Research found 13 nanograms of nanoplastics per milliliter of melted ice in Greenland, but four times as much in Antarctic ice. This is likely because the process of sea ice formation concentrates the particles.
In Greenland, half of the nanoplastics were polyethylene (PE), used in single-use plastic bags and packaging. A quarter was tire particles and a fifth was polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in beverage bottles and clothing.
Half of the nanoplastics in Antarctic ice were also polyethylene, but the next most common was polypropylene, used for food containers and pipes. In Antarctica, which is more distant from settlements, no tire particles were found. The researchers took samples only from the ice core center to avoid contamination and tested their system with clean water controls.
Previous research has found plastic nanoparticles in UK rivers, North Atlantic seawater and Siberian lakes, and snow in the Austrian Alps. “But we assume that the ‘hot spots’ are the continents where people live,” Materić says.
The researchers write: “Nanoplastics have shown various negative effects on organisms. Human exposure to nanoplastics can lead to cytotoxicity [and] inflammation.”
“The most important thing for a researcher is to accurately measure [contamination] and then assess the situation,” Materić said. “We’re at a very early stage to draw conclusions. But it looks like everywhere we’ve done analysis it’s a very big problem. How big? We don’t know yet.”
Research on the impact of plastic pollution on health is starting and Dr Fay Couceiro is leading a new group on microplastics at the University of Portsmouth, UK. One of her first projects is with the NHS Portsmouth hospitals University Trust to study the presence of microplastics in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
In the course of the study, it will be clarified whether the condition of patients is provoked by a recently laid carpet or vaccination of rooms, the air of which may contain a large amount of fibers. “In addition to the environmental impact of plastics, there is a growing concern about how inhaling and ingesting microplastics affects our bodies,” says Couceiro.
Her recent study showed that people can breathe 2,000-7,000 microplastics a day in their homes. Professor Anoop Jeevan Chauhan, a respiratory specialist at Portsmouth’s University Hospital NHS Trust, said: “These data are truly shocking. Potentially, each of us inhales or ingests up to 1.8 million microplastics a year, and once ingested, it’s hard to imagine. that they do not cause irreversible harm.”
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