Highest Levels of Microplastics Found Near Summit of Mount Everest

Microplastics have merged as a big threat to the health of the planet and its inhabitants. Measuring up to just a few millimeters in size, these plastic products are incredibly difficult to trace; however, scientists are trying to detect its presence and density in various ecosystems. In a latest discovery, researchers have found evidence of highest levels of microplastics near the summit of Mount Everest.

Highest Levels of Microplastics Found Near Summit of Mount Everest

Image: Mark Fisher/National Geographic

Researchers analyzing snow and stream samples from the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition found microplastics as high up as 8,440 meters above sea level, although the highest concentrations of plastic pollution were around Base Camp. The findings were published in the journal One Earth.

Mount Everest has been described as ‘the world’s highest junkyard.’ Microplastics haven’t been studied on the mountain before, but they’re generally just as persistent, and typically more difficult to remove than larger items of debris…Mount Everest is somewhere I have always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.

Said first author Imogen Napper, a National Geographic explorer and scientist based at the University of Plymouth.

Microplastics pose a great ecological threat owing to their small size, which is difficult to detect and clean up. These tiny particles of plastic form by the slow breakdown of larger litter and are easily consumed by animals. Much has been studied on microplastics present in the ocean, but they are rarely studied on land, especially on remote mountaintops.

Though some members of the research team climbed the mountain gathering samples during the Everest expedition in the spring of 2019, most of the work was done in a lab at the University of Plymouth in the UK. Napper, who analyzed the samples, wanted to verify not only the presence of plastic pollution but the type of plastic on the mountain as well. She deemed it an important step in understanding where the pollution originated.

Highest Levels of Microplastics Found Near Summit of Mount Everest

Image: Mariusz Potocki/National Geographic

The research revealed significant amounts of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene fibers on the mountaintop. As these materials are being used intensively in the making of high-performance outdoor clothing, tents, and climbing ropes that are used by climbers, it is suspected that these items are the major polluters rather than food and drink containers.

According to Napper,

Microplastics are generated by a range of sources and many aspects of our daily lives can lead to microplastics entering the environment. Over the past few years, we have found microplastics in samples collected all over the planet – from the Arctic to our rivers and the deep seas. With that in mind, finding microplastics near the summit of Mount Everest is timely reminder that we need to do more to protect our environment.

She further added that communities tend to emphasize reducing, reusing, and recycling larger plastic waste. While that is important, it is crucial to start directing deeper technological solutions to deal with microplastics. The researchers hope to clarify the extent to which plastic pollution has affected all ecosystems, not merely the oceanic habitats.

Whereas this study evidently established the presence of microplastics on Mount Everest, there is no viable solution available to clean up this mess!

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