Diplomats from 175 countries will meet on Monday in Paris, for negotiations on a plastic treaty, they may need to carry an umbrella, and not just for the rain.
During the five days of talks, the French capital will also be flooded with billions of microplastic particles falling from the sky. Obviously, this is not the first time this has happened, but it is the first time that they will be included in the first weather forecast for plastic pollution.
The predicted plastic rain will be between 40 and 48 kilograms of free-floating plastic particles that will cover Greater Paris every 24 hours, scientists from the relevant research told AFP.
If the weather actually contains heavy rain, the “plastic rain” is likely to increase tenfold.
That fact alone “should sharpen the attention of negotiators,” says Marcus Gover, head of plastics research at the Minderoo Foundation, based in Perth, Australia.
- “Plastic particles break down in the environment and the toxic cocktail ends up in our bodies, where they cause unimaginable damage to our health.”
Concerns about the impact of plastics on the environment and human health have grown in recent years, as research intensifies to document their ubiquitous presence.
In nature, colorful microplastics – less than 5 millimeters in diameter – have even been found in ice near the North Pole and in fish that roam the deepest, darkest recesses of the oceans.
THE plastic debris they are estimated to kill more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year, according to the United Nations, while blue whales alone consume up to 10 million pieces of microplastic every day.
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And in humans, tiny pieces of plastic have been detected in blood and breast milk. Even in the placenta.
Animal experiments have linked chemicals in microplastics to increased risks of cancer, reproductive problems and DNA mutations.
“In our bodies, the plastics that should be of most concern to us are probably those between 10 nanometers and 1 micrometer,” the pediatrician said. Christos Simeonidisresearcher at Murdoch Children’s Research Hospital and the Minderoo Foundation.
“They are the ones most likely to cross our biological membranes into tissues, including the blood-brain barrier,” he told AFP.
And now the weather: cloudy with scattered showers of plastic
Diplomats from 175 countries gathered in Paris for plastic treaty talks on Monday might want to pack an umbrella – but not just because there’s a chance of rain ➡️ https://t.co/fobaZdjAH1 pic.twitter.com/nhd6xl7go8
— AFP news agency (@AFP) May 25, 2023
He adds: “We have only just lifted our heads out of the sand on the health risks posed by microplastics.”
The forecast for Paris next week covers only the largest particles, mainly synthetic fibers at least 50 micrometers long.
For comparison, a human hair is about 80 micrometers (one millionth of a meter) in diameter.
The method developed by researchers at the Minderoo Foundation does not measure the fall of plastic into the atmosphere in real time.
Instead, it’s based on research done in Paris, from 2015, which collected samples from multiple locations throughout the year and “sifted” them in the lab.
This groundbreaking work by French scientists has revealed that most of the plastic particles falling into Paris’ 2,500 square kilometer watershed were nylon and polyester, possibly clothing.
Other pieces come from tires, which travel through the atmosphere, especially when vehicles brake.
Over the course of an entire year, up to 10 tons of microplastic fibers are deposited in the Paris region, they estimated.
The density of “plastic rain” can increase significantly during heavy rain.
Measurements by other research groups have replicated these results in several cities around the world.
Microplastics that end up on the ground can be ingested or inhaled when mixed into the atmosphere, for example, on a windy day.
Last year, 175 countries agreed to legally strengthen the binding treaty to tackle plastic pollution, with the aim of concluding negotiations by 2024.
In the technical discussions starting on Monday, no major breakthrough is expected, but the important political debate will raise the issue of a global ban on single-use plastics, the “polluter pays” system as well as a proposal for a new tax on new, “virgin” plastic production.
But even if these policies are fully implemented, they may not be enough to reduce consumption.
On current trends, annual plastic production will nearly triple by 2060 to 1.2 billion tonnes, while waste will exceed 1 billion tonnes, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
With information from Scientific alert
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