Even in the Arctic, microscopic plastic particles fall from the sky with snow, a study has found.
The scientists were shocked by the sheer number of particles found: more than 1
This means that even there people are likely to inhale microplastics from the air – though the health effects remain unclear.
The region is often regarded as one of the last untouched environments in the world.
A German-Swiss research team has published work in the journal Advances in Science.
The scientists also found rubber particles and fibers in the snow.
How did the researchers conduct the study?
Using a low-tech method – a dessert spoon and a bottle – the researchers collected snow samples from the Svalbard Islands.
In the laboratory of the German Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, they discovered far more contaminating particles than expected.
Many were so small that it was difficult to tell where they had come from.
Most seemed to consist of natural materials such as vegetable cellulose and animal hide. But there were also plastic particles, rubber tires, paints, paints and possibly synthetic fibers.
The senior scientist, Dr. med. Melanie Bergmann, told BBC News, "We expected some impurities to be found, but so many microplastics were a real shock."
She said, "It is clear that most of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air."
Microplastic is defined as particles smaller than 5 mm in size.
Dr. Bergmann commented on their potential impact on humans and stated, "We do not know if plastics are harmful to humans or not, but we need to pay much more attention to the way we treat our environment."  The scientists also analyzed snow from sites in Germany and Switzerland. Samples taken from some areas of Germany showed higher concentrations than in the Arctic.
How does plastic pollution get into the Arctic?
Researchers believe that microplastics are blown up by winds and then transported through the atmosphere over long distances by mechanisms that have not yet been fully understood.
The particles are then "washed out of the atmosphere by precipitation, especially snow."
A study published in April by a British-French team showed that microplastic fell from the sky to the French Pyrenees, another supposedly pristine one Region.
Groups have found plastics in the atmospheric precipitation of Dongguan (China), Tehran (Iran) and Paris (France).
Where the pollution comes from, there are also uncertainties.
The presence of so many paint particles in the Arctic was a mystery.
The researchers suspect that some of the contamination comes from ships dragging against the ice. But they also speculate that some could be deducted from wind turbines.
The fiber fragments may have come from people's clothing, though this is currently undetectable.
Dr. Bergmann explained: "We have to ask – do we need so many plastic packaging – do we need all the polymers in the colors we use, can we think of car tires with different designs?" These are important issues. "
Dr. Eldbjørg Sofie Heimstad of the Norwegian Institute of Air Research, Kjeller, who was not involved in the last study, told me that some of the particulate pollution was local and some had migrated remotely.
She said, "We know that most of what we analyze and measure up there is long-range transported contaminants from [Europe] from Asia and around the world.
" Some of these chemicals have properties that pose a threat to the ecosystem and to live animals. "
What does that mean for the Arctic?
The results follow, based on our exclusive report from last year, that the highest concentrations of plastic particles in the ocean were found in the Arctic sea ice.
Plastic garbage also drifts hundreds or even thousands of miles to land on remote Arctic beaches.
For people who have considered the Far North as one of the last untouched parts of the world, this is depressing news.
At a dog sledding center near Tromsø in the Norwegian Arctic, a colleague, Lili, told us: "It makes me incredibly sad, we have plastic in the sea ice, we have plastic in the ocean, and so on
"Up here, every day, we see the beauty of it and see it so changed and corrupted – it hurts."
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