You’re Breathing in Microplastics, But What Does That Mean for Your Health?


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You’re Breathing in Microplastics, But What Does That Mean for Your Health?

You’re Breathing in Microplastics, But What Does That Mean for Your Health?

Microplastics are everywhere—in our food, water, and now even the air we breathe. But scientists are just starting to understand how airborne microplastics end up in the atmosphere and what happens when we breathe them in.

Let’s start with the basics. Microplastics are tiny specks of plastic less than 5 millimeters long—think anything shorter than the width of a pencil eraser. They come in two main categories.

The first type is known as primary, which are already small plastics, like glitter, and are directly released into the environment. The other type is secondary microplastics, which form when larger plastics degrade.

Most plastics are broken down through weathering, like when they’re exposed to waves, wind abrasion, and UV radiation. And depending on the type of plastic, it can take up to hundreds of years to break down, if at all.

And because microplastics are so tiny and lightweight, they can be transported over long distances globally. Eighty four percent of those microplastics likely originated from roads with the rest coming from oceans and agricultural dust.

Roads and the cars that drive on them provide the mechanical energy needed to make plastic airborne. As you’re racing down the highway, tiny bits of tire and other microplastics stuck to your tire slough off and fly away.

Think of it much like the way people move sand away from a beach, cars can move plastic away from cities, and then also move those plastics high into the atmosphere.

Limited research has also revealed that microplastics affect the health of plants and animals, which has impacts on the entire food chain.

 


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