There is a major problem with plastics in the natural world. Many polymers take hundreds of years to degrade, so it’s concerning that so much of them are ending up in our waterways. Researchers in Japan have discovered microplastics in raindrops. Is it possible that they’re making it into our food supply? The answer is yes.
In August, researchers from Tokyo’s Waseda University reported finding small plastic particles floating in cloud samples collected near Japan’s highest mountains. This moisture in the air will condense into precipitation, which will eventually soak into the ground and nourish our drinking supplies, our food, and our cattle. In other words, microplastics are present in the food we eat. The paper suggests that microplastics may be “contaminating nearly everything we eat and drink via ‘plastic rainfall.’”
Even the Japanese study doesn’t stand alone. Small particles of nine different plastics, including polyethylene and polypropylene, were discovered in rainwater samples collected a month prior by Indian researchers in Patna, a city in the state of Bihar. Some of these particles may have originated in the vicinity of Patna, according to the analysis of air currents, while others may have gone quite a distance.
Microplastics are defined as fragments less than a fifth of an inch in length, but many are much smaller than that. It’s likely that these tiny shards of plastic were carried into the clouds by evaporating ocean water. Microplastics in the oceans are estimated to weigh as much as 236,000 metric tons, causing concern among scientists.
Many fish consume plastic particles because they are filter feeders that remove plankton from the water. Eventually, the plastic will enter the food chain and end up in our seafood. Rain contaminated with plastic will have the same effect on agriculture and cattle. According to the Japanese report, the effects of this poisoning on human bodies are already visible. Nobody knows for sure what effect that has on our health right now, but it’s probably not good.