For the first time, nano plastics have been found in both the polar regions, which indicates that the tiny particles have now spread in most remote and pristine corners of our planet.
The researchers found the Nanoplatics, which is smaller than a micrometre, in higher concentrations in Greenland ice. “Our understanding of these tiny plastic particles remains limited, but their presence in such uninhabited, far-flung places suggests they may present a greater problem than we had anticipated,” said Dušan Materić, lead author of the study.
“Now we know that nanoplastics are transported to these corners of the Earth in these quantities. This indicates that nano plastics is really a bigger pollution problem than we thought,” said Dušan Materić.
In an analysis of a core from the Greenland ice sheet, they found that nanoplastic has been contaminating the remote region for at least 50 years. The researchers were also surprised to find that a quarter of the particles came from vehicle tires. The Greenland ice core was 14 meters deep, representing snow layers dating back to 1965. “The surprise for me was not that we detected nanoplastics there, but that we detected them throughout the core,” Materić said.
So even though nanoplastics are considered a new pollutant, it’s actually been there for decades Half the nanoplastics in Greenland were polyethylene (PE), which is used in single-use plastic bags and packaging. A quarter were tyre particles and a fifth were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used in drinks bottles and clothing. Half the nanoplastics in the Antarctic ice were PE as well, but polypropylene was the next most common used for food containers and pipes.
Most of the studies on the effects of plastic pollution have centered around larger fragments – macro and microplastics. As Nanoplastics are much harder to detect, they largely escaped attention. But several studies suggest they are widespread and make up a significant amount of our plastics debris. They have been traced in places including the North Atlantic, remote lakes in Sweden, Siberia and Russia, and snow in the Austrian alps, suggesting they are present everywhere. Nanoplastics are formed by natural erosion of larger plastics, through physical, chemical or biological processes. Nanoplastics have also been shown to have an adverse effect on marine life, affecting growth, delaying development, as well as causing larval malformations and subcellular changes.