Here, there, and everywhere
No place is safe from plastic pollution. Brahney et al. show that even the most isolated areas in the United States—national parks and national wilderness areas—accumulate microplastic particles after they are transported there by wind and rain (see the Perspective by Rochman and Hoellein). They estimate that more than 1000 metric tons per year fall within south and central western U.S. protected areas. Most of these plastic particles are synthetic microfibers used for making clothing. These findings should underline the importance of reducing pollution from such materials.
Eleven billion metric tons of plastic are projected to accumulate in the environment by 2025. Because plastics are persistent, they fragment into pieces that are susceptible to wind entrainment. Using high-resolution spatial and temporal data, we tested whether plastics deposited in wet versus dry conditions have distinct atmospheric life histories. Further, we report on the rates and sources of deposition to remote U.S. conservation areas. We show that urban centers and resuspension from soils or water are principal sources for wet-deposited plastics. By contrast, plastics deposited under dry conditions were smaller in size, and the rates of deposition were related to indices that suggest longer-range or global transport. Deposition rates averaged 132 plastics per square meter per day, which amounts to >1000 metric tons of plastic deposition to western U.S. protected lands annually.