Microplastics & Environmental Weathering
Microplastics can be found everywhere in the environment. Scientists estimate that between 15 trillion and 51 trillion particles populate surface water around the globe. What does studying microplastics and environmental weathering reveal about the spread of pollutants? Learn More on NSF's "The Discovery Files."
Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation
Microplastics & environmental weathering
Though smaller than a sesame seed, microplastics pose an increasing threat to the environment. They have been found in human lungs, blood, and placentas. New research explores how environmental weathering can cause microplastics to absorb pollutants -- potentially making them even more harmful.
But what does studying microplastics and environmental weathering reveal about the spread of pollutants? From the U.S. National Science Foundation, this is "The Discovery Files."
Microplastics can be found everywhere in the environment. Scientists estimate that between 15 and 51 trillion populate surface water around the globe.
Previously, little was known about the impact of environmental weathering on these micron-sized plastics. With support from NSF, researchers at Louisiana State University are taking a deep dive and have made a significant discovery.
Their experiments with weather conditions revealed the role of sunlight in altering the properties of microplastics. While at first only found on the surface of water -- after only 10 days -- the microparticulates were discovered suspended in water.
This study showed that photooxidation -– the combination of light and oxygen -– caused this dispersion. The research demonstrated that the environment-induced chemical changes caused the microplastics to absorb pollutants such as lead.
Further research could help the team assess if and when these toxic chemicals are released from microplastics and could initiate development of a process to intervene.
To hear more science and engineering news, including from the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.
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