We've polluted the deepest oceans with plastic garbage, so it's not surprising we're also ruining our most pristine mountain peaks.
Tiny fragments of microplastic have been discovered in the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, blown there and deposited by the wind, scientists reported Monday. (The Pyrenees are a mountain chain that forms the border between Spain and France.)
Scientists were able to determine that the microplastic – which is plastic that's less than five millimeters in length or about the size of a sesame seed – came from at least 60 miles away.
“It was incredible how much microplastic was being deposited,” French researcher Deonie Allen told National Geographic. “Microplastic is a new atmospheric pollutant,” she said.
In the new study, over a period of five months, scientists found substantial amounts of microplastic fragments, along with film and fiber debris. The researchers determined that 365 microplastic particles per square meter dropped from the sky each day.
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Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic waste that have been found in rivers, oceans and pristine polar regions. Previous research has found that microplastics have reached oceans by traveling long distances along rivers, wreaking havoc with ecosystems along the way.
For instance, a study released earlier this year said 73% of deepwater fish in the North Atlantic Ocean had eaten particles of microplastic.
However, until this research, there had been a lack of information about whether microplastic pollution could travel through the atmosphere.
According to Science magazine, the tiny particles of microplastic may travel much farther than 60 miles. "Dust particles from the Sahara Desert, for example, have been found in the Pyrenees, even though they are twice as large and twice as heavy as the microplastics found in the study," Science said.
Unfortunately, the tiny plastic pieces are nearly impossible to clean up, so the only realistic solution is to produce less.
Steve Allen of the University of Strathclyde told Newsweek that "the actions of individuals will have an impact on how much plastic is released into our environment. It is also important that we remember that governments will do nothing unless we demand it of them."
The microplastics study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Geoscience.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Blown by the wind, 'microplastic' pollution discovered in pristine mountain peaks