PARIS – Diplomats from 175 countries gathering in Paris for plastics treaty talks on Monday may want to pack an umbrella, but not just because there’s a chance of rain.
France’s capital will also be showered during the five-day talks by billions of microplastic particles falling from the sky, according to the first-ever plastics pollution weather forecast.
The predicted downpour will range between 40 and 48 kilograms of free-floating plastic bits blanketing greater Paris every 24 hours, the scientists involved told Agence France-Presse.
If the weather delivers heavy rain, the “plastic fall” is likely to increase up to tenfold.
“This should sharpen the focus of negotiators,” said Marcus Gover, head of plastics research at the Minderoo Foundation based in Perth, Australia.
“Plastic particles break down into the environment and this toxic cocktail ends up in our bodies, where it does unimaginable damage to our health.”
Concern over the impact of plastics on the environment and human well-being has surged in recent years along with a crescendo of research documenting its omnipresence and persistence.
In nature, multi-coloured microplastics – by definition less than five millimetres in diameter – have been found in ice near the North Pole and inside fish navigating the oceans’ deepest, darkest recesses.
Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, and filter-feeding blue whales consume up to 10 million pieces of microplastic every day.
‘Heads in the sand’
The equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic refuse is dumped into the ocean every minute.
In humans, microscopic bits of plastic have been detected in blood, breast milk and placentas.
Animal tests have linked chemicals in microplastics to increased risks of cancer, reproductive problems and DNA mutations but data on human impact is still lacking.
“In our bodies, the plastics we need to be most worried about are probably those between 10 nanometres and one micrometre,” said paediatrician Christos Symeonides, a researcher at Murdoch Children’s Research Hospital and the Minderoo Foundation.
“They’re the ones most likely to get through our biological membranes into tissues, including the blood-brain barrier,” he told AFP.
“We’re just now pulling our heads out of the sand when it comes to the health hazards of microplastics.”