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Microplastics in Clouds Above Japanese Mountains: A Concerning Ecological Reality

Recent research has unveiled a disconcerting revelation - microplastics have infiltrated the clouds enveloping Japan's iconic Mount Fuji and Mount Oyama. The study sheds light on the exceptional mobility of microplastics, demonstrating their ability to traverse vast distances through the atmosphere. This discovery underlines the potential threat of "plastic rainfall," as these airborne pollutants can contaminate crops and water sources over extensive geographical areas.

The concentration of microplastics in the cloud samples collected was alarmingly high, suggesting a possible role in cloud formation while emitting greenhouse gases. Hiroshi Okochi, the lead author and a professor at Waseda University, emphasizes the urgency of addressing "plastic air pollution" to avert the realization of climate change and irreversible ecological damage.

Published in Environmental Chemistry Letters, the peer-reviewed paper represents a pioneering effort to investigate microplastics in clouds. These particles, measuring less than five millimeters, originate from the degradation of larger plastic pieces, intentional additions to certain products, or industrial discharges. Tires and plastic beads from personal care products are identified as primary sources, contributing to an estimated annual deposit of up to 10 million tons of microplastics in oceans worldwide.

The health implications of microplastics extend to humans and animals, with detectable levels found in various bodily organs. Ongoing research, including studies involving mice exposed to microplastics, indicates potential health risks such as behavioral changes, cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Waseda researchers collected samples at altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 3,776 meters, identifying nine types of polymers like polyurethane and one type of rubber. The cloud mist contained between 6.7 and 13.9 pieces of microplastics per liter, including a significant volume of "water-loving" plastic bits. This finding suggests that microplastic pollution may play a crucial role in rapid cloud formation, potentially influencing the overall climate.

The accelerated degradation of microplastics exposed to ultraviolet light in the upper atmosphere poses a significant concern, emitting greenhouse gases in the process. Concentrations of these microplastics in clouds, particularly in polar regions, could disrupt ecological balance, as noted by the study's authors.

The study underscores the highly mobile nature of microplastics, capable of traveling vast distances through the air and the environment. Previous research identified microplastics in rain, attributing the primary source to seaspray or aerosols released during ocean activities, and suggesting additional contributions from dust kicked up by road traffic.

While acknowledging the financial constraints some readers may face, the call to support independent journalism, such as that provided by The Guardian, resonates. The Guardian's global environmental reporting, commitment to divesting from fossil fuel advertisements, and efforts to reduce carbon emissions highlight the critical role of supporting journalism that addresses pressing environmental concerns.

Source: The Guardian - Microplastics detected in clouds hanging atop two Japanese mountains