From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Sakas):
Gregory Wetherbee, a research chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey, had been collecting rain samples to study nitrogen pollution. Instead, he found a familiar leftover of modern life.
“I thought maybe I should look at these under a microscope. And when I did, uh, I was a little shocked by the amount of plastic that I saw in them … chunks of blue, orange, pink, you name it.”
Microplastics were the “furthest thing from my mind when we first started this project,” he said. Now it’s the focus of his new research paper titled “It Is Raining Plastic.” These plastics are tiny pieces of mostly fiber material, invisible to the naked eye.
As he stood next to a rain collector in a community garden in Arvada, it wouldn’t surprise you to find plastics in the water gathered here. This spot is close to traffic, parking lots, homes and stores. There’s a lot of plastic around. What really surprised Wetherbee was when he still saw microplastic in the rainwater collected at a site 10,000 feet above sea level in Rocky Mountain National Park.
“That made me realize that what we had here was something that was quite significant because the question is how do those plastics get into that remote area?”
Wetherbee’s study doesn’t answer that big question, and he doesn’t want to speculate. But it makes him think that somehow the plastic is transported through the atmosphere. A similar study was done in France that echoes Wetherbee’s findings. In a remote part of the Pyrenees Mountains, researchers found microplastics in the rainfall.
The study’s lead author told National Geographic that “Microplastic is a new atmospheric pollutant.”
Wetherbee said the plastic he found could be coming from myriad sources. Synthetic fibers from our clothing, shreds from tires on the road. When a grocery bag or a drink bottle breaks down, it becomes tiny pieces that spread. It doesn’t go away.