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Nanoplastics have now invaded both Arctic and Antarctica, researchers find

The Independent
The Independent
 2022-01-21

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Nanoplastics now pollute the North and South poles, scientists have discovered for the first time.

The particles are described as those produced unintentionally from the manufacturing of plastic items, and when they break down. They are microscopic in size, ranging from 1-1,000 nanometres.

Scientists from Utrecht University in the Netherlands reported on Thursday that decades-old ice in Northern and Southern Pole regions contained significant amounts of nanoscale plastic particles.

The 14-meter-deep ice cores, from Greenland and Antarctica , revealed several types of nanoplastics, including particles from tyres.

While there were several types of nanoplastic, the most prominent was polyethylene, accounting for more than half of the particles. Polyethylene is commonly used in packaging film, plastic shopping bags, bottles, toys, and household items.

The amount of nanoplastics also appeared to differ between the North and South ice core samples, having more of a presence at the South Pole.

Nanoplastics along with microplastics – which are 5mm in diameter or less - are among the most prevalent human-made pollutants in marine ecosystems and pose a toxic threat to species in the relatively untouched and pristine polar regions.

A report earlier this week from the international Environment Investigation Agency said that the global threat from plastic pollution is almost equivalent to the climate crisis .

The overproduction of plastics now poses a major threat to the planet ’s basic ability to maintain a habitable environment , it warned, calling for a new United Nations treaty to provoke better interventions against the crisis.

Citing previous studies, the report warned that the amount of virgin plastic in the ocean is expected to triple by 2040.

The new nanoplastic research was conducted by a team of scientists from Utrecht University, the University of Copenhagen and the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

The researchers reported that while earlier studies had suggested that nanoplastics were able to travel great distances on wind and water currents, they were still surprised to find substantial quantities in their samples.

And although the team was the first to identify nanoplastics in polar ice, the pollution has been mounting since the 1960s.

“Now we know that nanoplastics are transported to these corners of the Earth in these quantities. This indicates that nanoplastics is really a bigger pollution problem than we thought”, said Dušan Materić, lead author of the study.

He added: “So organisms in that region, and likely all over the world, have been exposed to it for quite some time now.”

His team had previously identified nanoplastic particles in samples from the Alps.

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