Dust : Tires & Textiles in the Air


You have probably heard about micro and nano plastics found in the air of large cities. But recent research shows that microplastic fibers and particles produced from microplastics in ocean spray, tires, textile fibers and even soils can become entrained in air currents, travel short or long distances, and redeposit on the ground and water.


Dr. Janice Brahney, of the Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, has published two important research papers that examine plastics in the air.  


The most recent, published April 2021 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America tests hypotheses of the sources of atmospheric plastics:



Her earlier work, published in June 2020 in Science, was conducted in collaboration with the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP).  It documents the atmosphere’s role in transporting microplastics to remote locations.  Measurements taken from US national parks showed that a surprising amount of plastic, about 1,000 tons per year, falls back to ground in the area studied. (Studied area was about 6% of the contiguous US)  Link to original research:



The more recent report, “Constraining the atmospheric limb of the plastic cycle” says that the significance of the work is:


Microplastic particles and fibers generated from the breakdown of mismanaged waste are now so prevalent that they cycle through the earth in a manner akin to global biogeochemical cycles. In modeling the atmospheric limb of the plastic cycle, we show that most atmospheric plastics are derived from the legacy production of plastics from waste that has continued to build up in the environment. Roads dominated the sources of microplastics to the western United States, followed by marine, agriculture, and dust emissions generated downwind of population centers. At the current rate of increase of plastic production (∼4% per year), understanding the sources and consequences of microplastics in the atmosphere should be a priority.”


In the abstract she writes that, “Akin to global biogeochemical cycles, plastics now spiral around the globe with distinct atmospheric, oceanic, cryospheric, and terrestrial residence times.”


So, take a deep breath!  Or don’t….

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