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Nanoplastic pollution is found in the Arctic and Antarctica for the first time

Nanoplastic pollution is found in the Arctic AND Antarctica for the first time: Tyre particles are among contamination seen at the North and South poles

  • University of Utrecht researchers found the toxic particles in Greenland 
  • They also detected the nanoplastics in as remote a region as Antarctica 
  • Experts claimed the plastics are a ‘bigger pollution problem than we thought’


Toxic nanoplastics have been discovered on both tips of the globe for the first time, scientists revealed. 

Researchers from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands found the harmful plastics — including tyre particles — have been polluting Greenland for as long as 50 years.

And they also found the particles in as remote a region as Antartica, suggesting they are a ‘bigger pollution problem than we thought’. 

Nanoplastics are smaller and more poisonous than microplastics, which have been found all over the world. Their full impact of both on human health is not yet known. 

Experts fear they could pose a major problem to humans and other animals, with the amount of plastic in the ocean expected to triple by 2040. 

The Environmental Investigation Agency earlier this week announced the world’s plastic pollution threat constitutes a ‘planetary emergency’ equal to climate change.

Toxic nanoplastics have been discovered on both tips of the globe for the first time, scientists revealed. Graphic shows: The proportion of types of nanoplastics found in Greenland (top) and Antartica (bottom). The most prominent plastic found was polyethylene (PE), which is used in plastic shopping bags, bottles and packaging film. They also found dust worn from tyres (Tire) — thought to be one of the biggest causes of ocean plastic pollution — made up a quarter of the plastics in Greenland. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — used in used in drinks bottles and clothing — made up a fifth of the pollution in Greenland

Researchers from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands found the harmful plastics ¿ including tyre particles ¿ have been polluting Greenland (pictured) for as long as 50 years

Researchers from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands found the harmful plastics — including tyre particles — have been polluting Greenland (pictured) for as long as 50 years

World’s plastic pollution threat is a ‘planetary emergency’ 

The world’s plastic pollution threat constitutes a ‘planetary emergency’ that’s equal to climate change and biodiversity loss, a new report warns. 

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has urged nations globally to agree to a UN treaty so they’re committed to legally binding targets to combat plastic waste.  

Plastic pollution directly undermines our health, drives biodiversity loss, exacerbates climate change and risks ‘large-scale harmful environmental changes’, the EIA says. 

Plastic is found in the deepest parts of the ocean, on the highest mountain peaks, in human organs and on remote and uninhabited islands.  

Dedicated multilateral agreements to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change have been in place for nearly 30 years, the agency said.

However, no equivalent currently exists to tackle plastic pollution, which it calls ‘one of the most prevalent and destructive environmental pollutants in existence’.

Dr Dusan Materic, an environmental scientist who led the research, said: ‘Now we know that nanoplastics are transported to these corners of the Earth in these quantities. 

‘This indicates that nanoplastics is really a bigger pollution problem than we thought.’

The study, published in Environmental Research, analysed 14-metre deep ice cores from Greenland and sea cores from Antartica.

They used new methods to detect the nanoplastics — which are harder to find than microplastics that had already been discovered in both areas. 

Researchers found found 13 nanograms of nanoplastics per millilitre of melted ice in Greenland.

And there was four times as much discovered in Antartica — a likely consequence of how sea ice concentrates particles. 

The most prominent plastic found in both regions was polyethylene, which is used in plastic shopping bags, bottles and packaging film.

It made up half the plastics in Greenland and Antartica. 

They also found dust worn from tyres — thought to be one of the biggest causes of ocean plastic pollution — in Greenland.  

A quarter of the plastics found in the region came from tyres.

Polyethylene terephthalate — used in used in drinks bottles and clothing — made up a fifth of the pollution in Greenland.

Dr Materic said: ‘Our data suggest that nanoplastics pollution is not a new problem.

‘We are only now becoming aware of it, because we have recently developed the right method to measure it. 

‘In the Greenland core, we see nanoplastics pollution happening all the way from 1960s. 

‘So organisms in that region, and likely all over the world, have been exposed to it for quite some time now.’ 

His team had previously detected the plastics in the Alps in Europe. 

Experts fear the plastics could be harmful to humans and other animals, suggesting the newfound scale of the problem could pose a major problem for health.

The researchers said: ‘Nanoplastics have shown various adverse effects on organisms. 

‘Human exposure to nanoplastics can result in cytotoxicity [and] inflammation.’ 

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