If microplastics have boundaries, we don’t yet know what they are. We seem to find this microscopic trash everywhere we look, from the bottom of the deepest oceans to Earth’s highest peaks.
Now, we’re starting to understand why.
Beyond all the disturbing discoveries of microplastics turning up inside our bodies, we now know these tiny fragments can travel in the air, floating through the atmosphere, at least until they get stopped by something.
In a new study, scientists made use of an ingenious method for tracking this insidious air pollution phenomenon, thanks to something that’s entirely natural and rather ubiquitous – spiderwebs.
Organic geochemist Barbara Scholz-Böttcher from the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany said:
“Spiders are found all over the world, including in cities. Their sticky webs are an ideal trap for anything that floats through the air.”
Sticky spiderwebs might seem like a nuisance if you walk into one, however they turn out to be a brilliant, organic commodity for monitoring particulate contamination in the urban atmosphere.
In an experiment, student researcher Rebecca Süßmuth collected spiderwebs attached to street-side bus stops in the city of Oldenburg in north-western Germany (with the webs situated about 2 meters or 6.5 ft off the ground).
Analysing the web samples back in the lab, the researchers checked the strands for several different kinds of plastic polymer formations. The tests revealed that microplastics had adhered to the spiderwebs.
Co-author of the report Isabel GoBmann, who worked on the research as part of her PhD thesis said:
“All the spiderwebs were contaminated with microplastics.”
According to the findings, microplastic contamination caught in spiderwebs can account for up to 10 percent of the weight of the entire web, and this 10 percent is made up of a number of different kinds of microplastics.
The team reported that in around 90 percent of the detritus there were variations of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the dominant polymer being C-PET, which most likely came from textile fibres.
Another source of the microplastics found in the spiderwebs was finely ground tire wear particles (TWP), which break off the outer part of tires during braking and acceleration, and which were expected to be found in volume given the roadside location of the web collections.
The researchers noted that while TWP rubbers are not technically plastics, but due to their synthetic nature they are increasingly being included in definitions of microplastic pollution.
Although the findings amount to yet another dismal reminder of the pervasiveness of microplastic pollution in the air that we breath, at least here we’ve identified a clever and inexpensive way to help monitor the problem – even if spiderweb sampling isn’t as innovative as you might think.
As the team points out, spiderwebs have actually been used for environmental testing purposes like this for at least 30 years. However, the researchers say this is the first time they’ve been examined for microplastics, and these naturally occurring traps seem to have proved just how much risk these floating plastic particles pose to humans.
The researchers write in their paper:
“The sampling is simple and no special sampling devices are necessary.
Covered bus stops are popular all over the world and orb-weaving spiders occur in nearly every habitat on Earth.
Therefore, spiderwebs are an easily accessible medium around the globe to mirror microplastics in urban air.”
The findings are reported in Science of the Total Environment.
Micro Plastics Found in Human Lungs
Scientists have reported that microplastic pollution is now ubiquitous across the planet, making human exposure unavoidable and meaning “there is an increasing concern regarding the hazards” to health.
For example, scientists recently discovered microplastics in the lung tissue of 11 out of 13 patients that were undergoing surgery, with polypropylene and PET being the most common.
Samples were taken from tissue removed from 13 patients who were undergoing surgery and microplastics were found in 11 cases. The most common particles were polypropylene, which is used in plastic packaging and pipes, and PET, which is most commonly found in plastic bottles.
Two previous studies had found microplastics at similarly high rates in lung tissue (at similarly high rates) which had been taken during autopsies.
People are already known to breathe in these tiny plastic particles, as well as consuming them via food and water. Workers exposed to high levels of microplastics are also known to have developed diseases.
In March 2022 microplastics were detected in human blood for the first time. A study conducted by the Hull York medical school in the UK showed that microplastic particles can travel around the human body and lodge in organs.
The researchers expressed their grave concerns as these microplastics cause grave damage to human cells as these air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and are causing millions of early deaths every year. The impact on human health is catastrophic.
Laura Sadofsky of Hull York medical school in the UK, a senior author of the study said:
“We did not expect to find the highest number of particles in the lower regions of the lungs, or particles of the sizes we found.
It is surprising as the airways are smaller in the lower parts of the lungs and we would have expected particles of these sizes to be filtered out or trapped before getting this deep.”
In May 2022 Rambling in Pen published an article regarding the Greenpeace UK Big Plastic Count and what happens to the world’s plastic waste.
Franky, the results of our investigation were horrifying. You can read the article –> here
We thank you for reading this article and hope you will share it with your friends and family.
We leave you now with a tune from the late Michael Jackson – The Earth Song.
Peace and Tranquility.
Author: Michael W
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