Air Pollution

Plastic Pollution and Air Pollution are Now the Same Thing

Post by  
John Wilton-Davies

Some of the really big environmental issues are climate change, air pollution and plastic pollution.  

Air pollution and climate change are inextricably linked.  Greenhouse gases and particulates in the air affect the retention or transference of solar energy,leading to temperature rises, and particulates falling onto ice darkens the surface, resulting in warmer ice and faster melting.

However, scientists have recently discovered that plastic also forms a significant element of air pollution.  We’ve known for years that, in the environment, plastics breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually being ingested by wildlife and entering the food-chain – a particular concern with marine creatures where environmental plastic concentrations are at their greatest.

Whilst larger pieces of plastic can kill any animal unfortunate enough to ingest it, no one really knows what effect micro-plastics have on animals digestive systems.  It’s believed that medium-sized fragments will pass through without particular effects whilst there is a likelihood that microscopic pieces are absorbed,ending up potentially in the flesh with, as yet, unknown consequences.

But as plastic continues to breakdown – in size, not in composition – the fragments become sufficiently small to become airborne, in just the same way diesel particulates pervade our air.  It’s now known that plastic particulates are in the air everywhere, even in otherwise pristine areas such as the arctic.

Unlike other particulates, where concentrations vary considerably with location – for example carbon-based particles are found in much higher concentrations near power stations and transport links – plastic pollution is likely to be much more uniformly spread.  These particulates are finding their way into our lungs and into the cells of our bodies. With little definitive research into the effect of these plastics it’s possible, if a little unlikely, that they may cause little harm directly.  However, plastic particles tend to accumulate deposits of other contaminants, many of which are known to be harmful, giving them a piggyback into our bodies.

We think it’s just a matter of time before plastic is added to the list of air pollutants causing us significant harm.  On a slightly upbeat note, a decent purifier that removes the finer particulates in the air will also remove micro plastic particles.

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