Microplastics contaminate snow, rain, researcher finds

Fibers of polyester and other pieces of microplastic have been found in dozens of snow samples taken over the past year from Big Sky Resort, Teton Pass and other Rocky Mountain sites.

Bekah Anderson, a Montana State University senior majoring in chemical engineering, used microscopes and other specialized laboratory tools in MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering to analyze the samples, which also reveal plant pollen and dust.

“All the pieces I’ve found so far have been small fibers that seem to be from fabrics like fleece,” Anderson said, noting that many kinds of outdoor clothing are made of finely spun plastic fibers. “We think that’s because they’re fine enough to get whisked up into the atmosphere.”

Previously, scientists have documented the presence of microplastic in streams and other water bodies, but the MSU study is among the first to examine the man-made particles directly in precipitation.

Research into the effects of airborne microplastics on humans is still relatively new, but scientists are concerned that the fibers can also contain pollutants, dyes, additives and pigments that can harm human health when inhaled.

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