US Geological Survey finds plastic in rainfall in the Rocky Mountains

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Rainwater Sample
Rainwater samples collected across Colorado and analyzed under a microscope contained a rainbow of plastic fibers. Image via USGS.

Researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) found something completely unexpected while analyzing the rainwater for nitrogen pollution. They found plastic. In a new report titled “It is raining plastic”, researchers explain that they detected plastic in more than 90 percent of the rainwater samples collected at eight different sites, most of them lying between Denver and Boulder, Colorado.
It is all the more surprising since plastics are found at remote locations such as in CO98 which is 3159 meters above the sea in the Rocky Mountains. Detecting plastics in urban areas is not that startling due to the high abundance of plastic in these locations. The team mentioned that a greater amount of plastic fibres were obtained from urban locations than from remote areas such as mountains. However observing plastic fibres in remote locations such as CO98 in Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain indicates that wet deposition of plastic is no longer an urban phenomenon. The study has been published by USGS.
Plastic strands which were detected resemble a lot like microfibres in synthetic materials which are normally found in clothes. They were found in blue along with red, silver, green and purple. However, the plastic pieces are quite small as they are only visible after magnification of 20 times. At present, human beings consume a minimum of 70,000 microplastic particles in a year whereas there are several million tonnes of plastic left in the oceans. This means that there are a lot more plastic in our environment than actually visible to us. Now it is a part of rainfall, snow thereby occupying a significant portion of our environment which is quite unfortunate.
However, this is not the first instance of detecting microplastics in unexpected locations of our environment. A paper published in Nature Geoscience reported the detection of microplastics in French Pyrenees. It also estimated that microplastics might be traveling up to 95 kilometers in the atmosphere.

A key difference between that paper and the current finding is that while the previous one was mainly focused on finding the reasons plastic ended up in those areas this work was not intended for it, the main goal here was to study nitrogen pollution. It was not designed to analyze samples for the collection of plastic particles. Hence the results are quite unanticipated.
This is a grave concern and therefore advanced methods of sampling, identification, and quantification of deposition of plastic is needed to understand the resultant ecological effects.

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