Garbage on Mount Everest. Photo from 1993
PIERRE ROYER / AFP via Getty Images
Microplastics are present at both the highest and lowest points on earth. The tiny pieces of plastic had previously been discovered in the 11 kilometers deep Mariana Trench in the Pacific and have now been discovered on Mount Everest.
This is the first time that microplastics, plastic parts less than 5 millimeters in diameter that can come from the collapse of larger objects, have been discovered on Everest.
Imogen Napper of the University of Plymouth, UK, and colleagues collected eight 900 milliliter samples of stream water and 11 300 milliliter snow samples from various points on the mountain. The team found microplastics in all of the snow samples and three of the electricity samples.
“While the research on Mount Everest has been really exciting and getting the samples has been incredible, you secretly hope you can’t find any because you want the environment to be pristine,” says Napper.
The most polluted sample came from Everest Base Camp in Nepal, where most of the human activity is concentrated on the mountain. It had 79 microplastic particles per liter of snow. The highest sample taken 8,440 meters above sea level or 408 meters below the summit had 12 microplastics per liter of snow.
Most of the microplastics found on Mount Everest were made from synthetic fibers, including polyester and acrylic, which are used to make the clothing and equipment that hikers rely on.
If you walk around for just 20 minutes, wash our clothes or open a plastic bottle, microplastics can be released into the environment.
“What we don’t fully understand yet are the potential problems these tiny pieces of plastic could have for ecosystems, organisms, and even our own health. We cannot afford plastics to be the asbestos of the 21st century, ”says Christian Dunn of Bangor University in the UK.
Because of their size, microplastics are incredibly difficult to get rid of. According to Napper, the focus must be on technological advances to stop their further spread.
“Right now the problem is like an overcrowded bathroom, and instead of continually mopping the floor, we just turn off the tap. When you turn off the tap, no more plastics get into the environment, ”says Napper.
Journal reference: One Earth, DOI: 10.1016 / j.oneear.2020.10.020
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