Scientists calculate the amount of microplastics in spider webs

(ORDO NEWS) — Previously, microplastics have been found in the most unexpected places – from the depths of the oceans to our own bodies.

These tiny particles of plastic travel freely through the air, and how effectively they do this, we were “told” by the sticky threads of the web.

In recent years, there have been a growing number of alarming reports of microplastics tiny particles of plastic no larger than five millimeters being found in the most unexpected places.

This ubiquitous contaminant has been found atop Chomolungma, the highest mountain on earth, and extracted from human blood samples.

There is no doubt that microplastics are able to spread through the air, although scientists have not previously been able to track the amount of pollutant moving in this way.

Now they were able to do it – and not with the help of any special devices, but simply by counting the number of microplastic particles stuck to the spider webs.

In the course of the study, scientists collected webs near bus stops in the city of Oldenburg in northwestern Germany.

Then the samples were analyzed in the laboratory – naturally, adhering particles of microplastic were revealed on them. Another thing was surprising: the amount of microplastic in the web was up to ten percent of its own weight.

The most adhering samples were PET (polyethylene terephthalate) – presumably caught on the web from the clothes of bus stop visitors – and microscopic particles of car tires formed during braking and accelerating cars. A spider sitting in a web over the road does not suspect that it acts as a “biodetector” of pollution.

Scientists calculate the amount of microplastics in spider webs 2
A spider sitting in a web over the road does not suspect that it is acting as a “biodetector” of pollution

While the results of the study are just another grim reminder of the ubiquity of microplastics, the scientists were able to test and evaluate a new, low-cost way to monitor pollution.

The web has been used as a biodetector in various environmental studies for more than 30 years, the team says, but this is the first time it has been used to track the amount of microplastics in the air.

Covered bus stops are in many countries, and orb-web spiders are distributed all over the world, so now, even without expensive equipment, environmentalists will be able to monitor how urban air is polluted with microplastics.

At the very least, this will prevent an increase in the concentration of the pollutant, because then it can already become a threat to human health.


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