Microplastics are thick on the ground up in the mountains with upwards of 365 them covering every square meter.
Microplastics have colonized the planet, penetrating even into the deepest recesses of the seas. And they even blanket mountaintops.
At a remote spot atop the French Pyrenees researchers documented the presence of microplastics. Nor is it only a few particles. Rather, microplastics are thick on the ground up in the mountains with upwards of 365 them covering every square meter in the area that is at an elevation of some 3km.
Researchers believe that these pollutants have likely been blown to the top of the mountain from nearby cities like Barcelona, which lies to the south. Wasteful human habits are contaminating even supposedly pristine environments that may seem to be relatively safe from the effects of human interference but aren’t.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a plastic bag on a fence flapping away until it disappears,” notes Steve Allen, a scientist at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland who participated in the research team that published a study on the findings. “Well, we thought that maybe it just doesn’t disappear, so we started looking for it a bit higher up,” he adds.
Scientists have long known that tiny plastic particles can spread far and wide around the planet, borne by ocean currents and winds. Even so, the discovery that vast amounts of microplastic have been settling atop tall mountains like the Pyrenees came as a surprise. Drifting in the breeze in the isolated, sparsely populated area are several types of microplastic floating from bits and pieces of plastic bags and packaging to fibers from clothing.
“We expected to find some [microplastics],” Allen explains. “We didn’t expect to find quite as much as we did. We’d kind of expected it in a city getting blown around, but way up there? The number is astounding.”
The environmental costs of plastic pollution are exceedingly grave, and they may end up impacting our health as well. Already microplastics have showed up in the food chain and even contaminated our table salt. They are accumulating in people’s guts and possibly even in their lungs after tiny particles are inhaled.
And because of our spendthrift ways and continued reliance on plastics, we’re going to see plenty more plastic pollution in years to come. “They’re a brand new [type of] pollution, but there’s so much of it and it’s increasing so fast that it’s something we really need to start learning about,” Allen says.