Your Car Is Littering the World with Tons of Microplastics, Says Study

Your tires and brakes create tiny plastic particles that could have serious effects on the planet and our health.
Fabienne Lang

You may think twice before buying your second or even third car. Scientists have now shown that tiny, minute bits of plastic are flying off of car tires and brakes, before blowing across to clean parts of the world, or into human lungs. 

The new study was published in Nature Communications on Tuesday. 


Air pollution in a different format

The world of electric vehicles may be growing and will certainly help to curb air pollution to a certain extent. However, that still won't minimize the issue of air pollution from different parts of the car: tires and brakes. 

Tires are made from rubber, but they also have synthetic elastomers and fibers, and brakes are made of a mixture of plastic and metal. Small fragments of these materials erode away due to friction from the rubber hitting the tarmac road or the brakes being pressed down. These pieces end up in gutters, which end up in the sea or get blown into the air by the wind. 

From there, these microplastics make their way to pristine parts of the world such as Greenland, the Arctic, as well as our oceans. They even rain down upon American National Parks.

The researchers of this study discovered that these particles can 'live' up to a month in these new environments, and calculate that 52,000 tons of the smallest particles end up in the sea every year, and 20,000 tons end up in snowy far-away regions. 

"Small particles are lofting higher, of course. But they also weigh less than larger ones and can easily reach remote regions under favorable meteorological conditions," said Nikolaos Evangeliou, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and lead author of the new paper. "Larger particles are usually deposited near the sources."

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As these microplastics, which are multicolored, are landing on pristine white snow in certain Arctic regions, the research suggests that they may be moving global warming along. Snow needs to remain white if it wants to properly reflect the Sun, and thus heat. With more colored particles landing atop it, snow may melt at a faster rate.

This direct link has yet to be confirmed by the scientists, however. As Evangeliou stated "We are currently making simulations to calculate the climatic parameter of the microplastic dispersion, but it is rather speculated in the paper as a possible impact on the climate."

The main questions at the moment that arise from this study are how much on an impact these microplastics from cars are having on human and animal health, as well as our ecosystems? 

Only more research will tell the truth. 

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