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Plastic waste on a beach.
Microplastics cause major damage to natural ecosystems around the world. Photo: Pixabay.

New study reveals how microplastics damage natural ecosystems

They, and other substances can be dispersed through air transport or improper garbage disposal.

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A new study on contaminants in nature recently published in Nature Communications, revealed a worrying picture around the uncontrolled disposal of waste. The study featured more than 40 contributions from scientists in countries like Spain, China, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Chile, South Africa, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Nigeria, Mexico, the United States, Brazil, India, and Israel,

Pointing out how contaminants of concern — metals, pesticides, microplastics, and antibiotic resistance genes — can be dispersed through air transport, uncontrolled garbage disposal, and even rainwater runoff, the study "has exposed that the environmental stress associated with soil contamination, whether of natural origin or due to the incidence of human beings, can directly affect biodiversity and further compromise the resistance and resilience of ecosystems in the face of climate change and natural catastrophes.”

The researchers indicated that soil pollution is currently linked to vehicle emissions, industrial processes, pesticide treatment, plant diseases and poor waste management.

"The results of this international research show that the level and characteristics of microplastics in natural areas coincide with those present in parks and urban gardens of terrestrial ecosystems around the world," said Carlos Sanz Lázaro, an ecologist from the University of Alicante, in Spain.

The threat of microplastics

Typical contaminants of anthropogenic (human) origin, microplastics are also ubiquitous in soils in urban green spaces and natural ecosystems around the world.

It is also important to point out that urban green spaces are more influenced by pollutants than natural ecosystems, as they are geographically connected to human activities.

The study revealed that the advance of contaminants is so great that the soils of remote Antarctica also contain microplastics.

“This work is relevant because it provides evidence for a quantitative comparison of soil pollutants in urban and natural spaces on six continents. Surprisingly, we found similar proportions of the shape and polymer type of microplastics in natural areas and urban green spaces, which further supports the idea of a spread of anthropogenic contaminants through ecosystems,” emphasized Sanz Lázaro.

The researcher also warned that the particles, which generally come from cities, negatively impact distant areas, with fibers being the main form of plastic particles suspended in the atmosphere of cities such as Paris, London and Dongguan, China.

"The fibers generally consist of polyester and polypropylene that come from synthetic fabrics, ropes and nets," Sanz Lázaro said.

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