Plastic Plague: For First Time Nanoplastic Pollution Found on Earth’s Poles

Every other day, microplastics or nanoplastics are being detected in places we least expect. For instance, tiny plastic particles, including tire dust have been found in ice cores dating back five decades, showing how human advancement has brought global contamination upon the planet. A new study has discovered nanoplastics at both of the earth’s poles.

Researchers found 13 nanograms of nanoplastics per millimeter of melted ice in Greenland, with four times more quantity in the Antarctic ice. The research proves conclusively that no corner of the planet has remained untainted by the presence of the toxic material. Analysis of a Greenland ice cap core revealed that nanoplastic pollution has been contaminating the remote region for at least 50 years. Surprisingly, there were even traces of particles from vehicle tires.

Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study speculated that nanoparticles discovered in Greenland could have been blown on winds from North American and Asian cities. The tiny plastics in sea ice in McMurdo Sound in Antarctica are likely to have traveled by oceanic currents. The research team also indicated that the plastic concentrations on the planet have exceeded its safe limit for humankind.

Scientists Find Nanoplastics at Earth’s Poles For First Time

Image: Gui Bortolotto

Dusan Materic, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the lead author of the study, said;

We detected nanoplastics in the far corners of Earth, both south and north polar regions. Nanoplastics are very toxicologically active compared to, for instance, microplastics, and that’s why this is very important…The surprise for me was not that we detected nanoplastics there, but that we detected it all the way down the core. So although nanoplastics are considered as a novel pollutant, it has actually been there for decades.

Materic’s team developed new detection methods to analyze the smallest plastic fragments in the frigid environs of the poles. Apparently, the Greenland ice core was 14-meter-deep, which signifies layers of snowfall dating back to 1965.

Half the nanoplastics found in Greenland were polyethylene (PC), which is used in single-use plastic bags and packaging. Out of the discovered plastic pollution in the region, a quarter were tire particles and a fifth were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in drink bottles and clothing.

Plastic fragments found in the Antarctic ice were PE as well, but polypropylene was also a common ingredient, which is used for food containers and pipes. The researchers acquired samples from the centers of the ice cores in order to avoid contamination, and tested their system with control samples of pure water. Given the distance of the continent from populated regions has spared it from any tire plastic pollution.

We have contaminated the remotest regions of the planet with plastic pollution. The land is smothered in plastic waste and the oceans are choking on the non-biodegradable material. Every living being, including humans, is being affected by the adverse effects of plastic and its constituents.

One simple question remains to be asked – when will we stop?

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