Plastic pollution is literally raining down on us.
A team of researchers in Japan has discovered microplastics inside rain clouds — the latest sign that the tiny particles are contaminating nearly every part of nature, from the things we eat and drink to the air we breathe.
The team sampled water from mists shrouding the peaks of Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama, identifying nine different kinds of polymers and even one type of rubber anywhere from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometers in size.
The new discovery doesn't bode well, adding clouds to an already lengthy and worrying list of places where microplastics have been found in nature, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to near the peak of Mount Everest.
"If the issue of 'plastic air pollution' is not addressed proactively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing irreversible and serious environmental damage in the future," Hiroshi Okochi, lead author of a new paper about the research, published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, said in a statement.
The team used advanced imaging techniques and infrared spectrometry to make their discovery.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on airborne microplastics in cloud water," the researchers wrote in the paper.
They concluded that airborne microplastics (AMPs) were so abundant that they may play a key role in rapid cloud formation, and could even be altering the overall climate.
In other words, AMPs may be actively contributing to climate change itself in the form of "plastic rainfall."
"AMPs are degraded much faster in the upper atmosphere than on the ground due to strong ultraviolet radiation, and this degradation releases greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming," said Okochi in the statement. "As a result, the findings of this study can be used to account for the effects of AMPs in future global warming projections."
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