Photo Courtesy from Scott Van Pelt/USDA

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A UCLA study led by Associate Professor Sanjay Mohanty has found that wind carries significantly higher levels of microplastics from treated sewage sludge used as fertilizer than previously thought. Using portable wind tunnels in agricultural fields in Lind, Washington, the researchers discovered that microplastics, due to their lower density and weaker bonding potential compared to soil particles, are more easily picked up and spread by the wind. This research indicates that current emission models, which track dust particles but not microplastics, underestimate the extent of microplastic dispersion by wind.

The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, highlights the increased concentration of microplastics in the air, posing potential health risks when inhaled. The findings showed that microplastics were picked up by wind 269 percent more often than expected, and while the smallest particles require higher wind speeds to become airborne due to stronger inter-particle forces, they still present a significant risk. This research underscores the need for improved models to better assess environmental and human health risks associated with microplastic emissions.

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