April 16 (UPI) -- Microplastics are everywhere. The tiny plastic particles have made their way to Earth's poles, to the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches and now to the peaks of French mountains.
Scientists have measured windblown microplastic particles in a remote part of the Pyrenees mountain range in France. The discovery was detailed in a study published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.
For five months, researchers collected particles settling out of the atmosphere and into a 10 square foot collection device at the Bernadouze meteorological station in the Pyrenees. The device captured an average of 365 plastic particles each day.
If microplastics fall across the rest of the country at the same rate they settle from the sky at the top of the Pyrenees, France is blanketed by 2,000 tons of plastic particles every year.
"It's astounding and worrying that so many particles were found in the Pyrenees field site," Steve Allen, a doctoral student at the University of Strathclyde in England, said in a news release. "What we can unequivocally prove is that it's being transported there by the wind."
"It opens up the possibility that it's not only in the cities are you breathing this in, but it can travel quite some distance from the sources," said Allen, who is also a researcher at EcoLab in Toulouse, France. "Plastic litter is an increasing global issue and one of the key environmental challenges we face on global scale."
The meteorological station where scientists collected particle samples is located in a remote part of the Pyrenees thought to be pristine. It is 75 miles from the nearest city.
"This mountainous area has been the subject of numerous interdisciplinary studies in ecology and environment over the past decade but we would still never have anticipated that this latest study would reveal such high levels of microplastics deposits," said Gael Le Roux from EcoLab.
Because the Pyrenees are covered in snow for most of the year, it's unlikely the microplastics arrived by way of local transport. They weren't simply blown from a nearby park. Instead, they were likely sourced from far away.
Scientists have previously found microplastics in Antarctica, as well as in the planet's deepest ocean trench. Studies have confirmed that deep sea creatures, as well as marine mammals, are ingesting significant quantities of microplastics.
Now, scientists know microplastics are being carried to extreme heights, as well.
The tiny plastic particles can be ingested and inhaled by humans. And as revealed by earlier studies, the ingestion of microplastics can trigger health and behavioral changes in mice and fish.