Technology Plastic particles in the air of the Pyrenees: pollution knows no borders

Plastic particles in the air of the Pyrenees: pollution knows no borders

Plastic pollution is definitely found everywhere. Scientists had already discovered microplastics at the bottom of the oceans, in rivers or in the snow of Everest and Mont-Blanc. This time, scientists have just spotted some in the “pure” mountain air.

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An international team involving the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) of Grenoble and Toulouse, has just provided proof of this. : by analyzing the composition of the air at the top of the Pic du Midi, in the Pyrenees, therefore above the clouds, at an altitude of 2,877 m, they found the presence of a microplastic every 4 m³. They used a pump for this, capable of sucking and filtering 10 000 m³ of air per week, and the analysis of the filters under a microscope made it possible to find these very small particles of 10 to 100 micrometers. They are certainly tiny (the largest are the size of textile fibers), but their presence in such a ventilated area and far from places of pollution is surprising.

Analysis of their composition shows that they are polymers such as polystyrene or polyethylene, and that they come from packaging or industrial plastics. This team of researchers also succeeded in retracing their trajectory using meteorological models. They turned the air masses upside down, therefore going back in time, explains Gael Le Roux, research director at the CNRS in Toulouse. Results : some of these plastics come from Africa or North America. Others have been washed up by the ocean, they come from spray which has been blown away. These results published in the journal Communication nature confirm that microplastic pollution knows absolutely no borders.

The consequences of this pollution on the environment and on health are well known. We can assimilate these microplastics to pollutants : if inhaled, they can have an irritating effect on our lungs, like fine particles from automobile pollution. The problem is that they can be found with concentrations 10 to 100 times higher in cities or in poorly ventilated homes.

All this raises the question of their persistence in nature. Because if this work tells us where it comes from, we do not know their lifespan in the atmosphere. All this shows the urgency to better manage our waste and our plastic packaging. Two thirds of the waste produced in the world today ends up in landfills, outside any recycling channel.

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