Synthetic fibers in atmospheric fallout: A source of microplastics in the environment?

Rachid Dris ⁎, Johnny Gasperi, Mohamed Saad, Cécile Mirande, Bruno Tassin Université Paris-Est, LEESU (laboratoire eau environnement et systèmes urbains), 61 avenue du Général de Gaulle, 94010 Cedex Créteil, France


Article history: Received 2 October 2015 Received in revised form 22 December 2015 Accepted 5 January 2016 Available online xxxx

Sources, pathways and reservoirs of microplastics, plastic particles smaller than 5 mm, remain poorly documented in an urban context. While some studies pointed out wastewater treatment plants as a potential pathway of microplastics, none have focused on the atmospheric compartment.

In this work, the atmospheric fallout of microplastics was investigated in two different urban and sub-urban sites. Microplastics were collected continuously with a stainless steel funnel. Samples were then filtered and observed with a stereomicroscope. Fibers accounted for almost all the microplastics collected. An atmospheric fallout between 2 and 355 particles/m2 / day was highlighted. Registered fluxes were systematically higher at the urban than at the sub-urban site. Chemical characterization allowed to estimate at 29% the proportion of these fibers being all synthetic (made with petrochemicals), or a mixture of natural and synthetic material. Extrapolation using weight and volume estimates of the collected fibers, allowed a rough estimation showing that between 3 and 10 tons of fibers are deposited by atmospheric fallout at the scale of the Parisian agglomeration every year (2500 km2 ). 

These results could serve the scientific community working on the different sources of microplastic in both continental and marine environments.

Results and discussion

Based on a long term monitoring (one year), our results show large amounts of fibers in the atmospheric fallout, which has not yet been reported in the literature. Throughout the year of monitoring (site 1), the atmospheric fallout ranged from 2 to 355 particles/m2 /day (Fig. 2) with an average atmospheric fallout of 110 ± 96 particles/m2 /day (mean ± SD), indicating a high annual variability. On Site 2 (6-month monitoring), the atmospheric fallout was around 53 ± 38 particles/m2 /day (mean ± SD).



Subject:  Microplastics in honey and water

Plastic micro‐debris made primarily of polyethylene, but also ethylene/butylene and ethylene/vinyl acetate copolymers, thought to come from cosmetics and toiletries containing exfoliating particles such as shower gels and toothpaste, passes through the sewage systems and the air into the environment and our food. Microplastics can constitute up to 10% of the product’s total weight. What is more, granular particles used as abrasives to treat surfaces can pass straight into the environment in shipyards, for example.

Fibres in clothing can also pass into the environment through the sewage system since, like granular particles in cosmetics, some of these slip through wastewater treatment facilities. If sewage sludge containing microplastics is used as fertiliser in agriculture, plastic micro‐debris can be blown into the atmosphere and can therefore also enter our food.

The results of research carried out at the University of Oldenburg show that fibres, fragments and even granular material are found in honey, drinking water and other drinks.

1. What information does the Commission have on the current levels of plastic micro‐debris in the environment?

2. What information does the Commission have on the level of plastic micro‐debris in aquatic organisms?

3. What information does the Commission have on the extent to which microplastics in the environment contain additives used in the production of polymers, and pollutants absorbed from the environment?

4. In the light of the studies which have been conducted, does the Commission believe that action is required?

5. Does the Commission plan to present a legislative proposal to phase out the use of microplastics in cosmetics and cleaning products?



Ces mystérieux filaments qui tombent du ciel

Immagine incorporata 1

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