SALT LAKE CITY — A U.S. Geological Survey researcher was a little surprised when he found multicolored microscopic plastic fibers in rainwater from the Rocky Mountains.
The researcher, Gregory Wetherbee, said he wasn’t at all thinking about plastic when he began collecting samples.
“I guess I expected to see mostly soil and mineral particles,” he told The Guardian.
But in a recently published study, rainwater samples from across Colorado found that there were a number of plastic fibers inside. Wetherbee said he was originally studying nitrogen pollution when he discovered plastic in the samples.
“I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye,” he told The Guardian. “It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.”
The researchers found the rainwater by using a microscope, according to the New York Post. They found all different varieties, colors and sizes of the microfibers.
So how did plastic get into the rainwater? Well, according to The Guardian, plastic particles can travel for hundreds and thousands of miles. Plastic particles have popped up in lakes, rivers, oceans and groundwater.
Trash may be to blame. Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert, told The Guardian plastic fibers are the result of industry.
According to National Geographic, 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. And it takes about 400 years for plastic to degrade, which means most of the plastic that has ever existed still exists today.
So why does it matter?
“The potential effects of plastic in rainwater on nature, animals, and human health are unknown,” according to The Week. “Even if humans halted all plastic usage and production, it’s unknown how long it would take for nature to return to its plastic-free state.”