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Japanese scientists have confirmed that they have found microplastics in the clouds and that its presence could be changing the climate in ways that are not yet fully understood, AFP reported.
For the purposes of the study, published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, the scientists traveled to Mount Fuji and Oyama to collect water from the clouds surrounding their peaks. “To our knowledge, this is the first confirmed case of microplastics suspended in cloud water,” the study authors wrote.
Using advanced imaging techniques, the researchers identified nine different types of polymers and one type of rubber in the airborne microplastic – ranging in size from 7.1 to 94.6 micrometers.
The hydrophilic polymers, i.e. those that love or are attracted to water are found in abundance, suggesting a possible role in cloud formation and therefore an impact on climate.
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“If the problem of air pollution is not dealt with decisively, climate change and ecological risks may become a reality, causing serious and irreversible damage to the environment in the future,” said the study’s lead author Hiroshi Okochi.
When microplastics reach the upper atmosphere and are exposed to the Sun’s ultraviolet rays, they break down, releasing greenhouse gases and contributing to climate change, Okochi explains.
Microplastics – defined as particles under 5mm – come from industrial waste, textiles or even car tires and personal care products. These tiny particles have been found in the ice of the Arctic, in the snow of the Pyrenees and in living organisms around the world.
However, the way in which they are spread remains relatively poorly understood, with few studies on airborne transmission.
There is also a lack of data on the health consequences of exposure to microplastics. However, studies are beginning to reveal a link to some diseases in addition to their environmental effects.