We've polluted the deepest oceans with plastic trash. Now it's the Arctic's turn: Blown by the wind, "microplastics" – which are tiny shreds of plastic less than five millimeters long – have been discovered in snow in remote areas of the Arctic, a new study suggests.
"It's readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air," said study lead author Melanie Bergmann of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute.
Bergmann said researchers found “enormous concentrations” of microplastics in snow samples from the Arctic, as well as from the Bavarian and Swiss Alps in Europe.
The discovery is especially disturbing because, according to the study, "the Arctic is still widely conceived as one of the last pristine environments on the globe."
The Arctic snow samples were collected between 2015 and 2017 from floating ice in the Fram Strait, a passage between Greenland and Svalbard to the Arctic Ocean.
The high concentrations found in snow samples from the various regions suggest microplastics – which may contain varnish, rubber or chemicals used in synthetic fabrics – cause significant air pollution.
"The study demonstrates that atmospheric transport is a relevant process moving microplastics around, potentially over long ranges and on a global scale,” said Martin Wagner, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who wasn’t involved with the study. “Also, snow may be an important reservoir storing microplastics and releasing it during snow melt, something that has not been looked at before.”
Microplastics have also been found in rivers and oceans around the world. 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.
What’s more, previous studies have also shown that microplastics may contribute to lung cancer risk, highlighting an urgent need to further assess the health risks of inhaling them, the study said.
“We really need to know what effects microplastics have on humans, especially if inhaled with the air that we breathe,” Bergmann said.
The study appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Plastic trash discovered in pristine Arctic snow