U.S. Geological Survey researcher Gregory Wetherbee was studying nitrogen pollution in Colorado, and found plastic in 90 percent of the water samples he collected across urban and mountainous sites, identifying small fibers, beads, and shards.
The conclusion of his study? "It is raining plastic."
Rainwater collected in urban areas had the most plastic, but the discovery of fibers at Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park leads scientists in the study, published by the USGS, to warn that plastic in rainwater is "not just an urban condition."
Ninety-one percent of plastic is not recycled, reports National Geographic, and it takes more than 400 years to degrade, meaning most plastic that was ever created still exists.
Plastic fibers break off clothes when you wash them and are byproducts of many manufacturing processes, Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher and sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend told The Guardian. These miniscule pieces of plastic are present in the atmosphere, then "incorporated into water droplets when it rains," effectively spreading plastic across Earth's surfaces.
The potential effects of plastic in rainwater on nature, animals, and human health are unknown, according to the USGS study. Even if humans halted all plastic usage and production, it's unknown how long it would take for nature to return to its plastic-free state. "I would guess centuries," says Stefan Krause, professor of Ecohydrology and Biogeochemistry at the University of Birmingham. Read more at The Guardian. Taylor Watson