Varnish and rubber found in arctic snow indicates "significant contamination of the atmosphere," according to study

By Danielle Garrand

/ CBS News

More microplastics found in Arctic sea ice

There are likely microplastics — small pieces of plastic that form when larger pieces break down — in your salt, bottled water and even in human waste. Now, researchers say they have even found the pollutant in Arctic snow.

Microplastics appear in "considerable quantities" in the Arctic, but researchers weren't sure exactly how the materials made it all the way north. A new study published Wednesday in the publication "ScienceAdvances" attempted to close the "knowledge gaps" of the pollutant's pathway and assessed snow to "whether atmospheric transport plays a role."

The research, titled "White and wonderful? Microplastics prevail in snow from the Alps to the Arctic," assessed snow sampled from ice floes in the Fram Strait — a sea channel that connects the Arctic ocean and Nordic Seas, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. To compare, scientists also tested snow samples from remote areas of the Swiss Alps and a populated area in Germany.

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Microplastics and fibers were identified in 20 of the 21 snow samples. Most particles were in the "smallest size range." While the concentration of the pollutant in the Arctic snow was "significantly lower" than the European samples, it was still "substantial," according to the study.

"MP concentrations in snow were very high, indicating significant contamination of the atmosphere," concluded the researchers.

Varnish, a hard, protective finish or film typically used in wood finishing, and rubber were found in the snow samples. Also discovered in the samples was polyethylene, the most common plastic in the world, and polyamide, used in synthetic fabrics, automotive applications, toothbrushes, and carpets, among other things.

The study, which provides the first data on contamination of snow by microplastics, postulated that the pollutants were potentially carried via air and stressed the need for further research.

"The high MP concentrations detected in snow samples from continental Europe to the Arctic indicate significant air pollution and stress the urgent need for research on human and animal health effects focusing on airborne MPs," said the study.

First published on August 15, 2019 / 9:17 PM

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