Sheep show the contamination by microplastics in the agricultural soils of Murcia

Sheep show the contamination by microplastics in the agricultural soils of Murcia
Sheeps during the study. Credit: Nicolas Beriot (Diverfarming project)

In recent times, the increase in plastic residues has been reasserted as being a major environmental problem. This material, which is present in packaging and day-to-day objects, plays a decisive role in intensive agriculture zones.

In the Region of Murcia, known as ‘Europe’s market garden,’ mulch film (plastic covering over the crop lines) increases production in vegetable fields, but involves using large amounts of plastic. This low-density plastic is difficult to completely remove from the fields and, with time, decomposes into smaller particles which are absorbed by the soil, transported by water or wind, and are also ingested by other animals.

In order to know the status of contamination by microplastics in this zone, researchers from the universities of Wageningen and Cartagena analyzed the presence of these plastics in agricultural soil, and also in sheep feces, to determine the possible ingestion of plastics by the livestock that feed on post-harvest agricultural residues.

They found that 100% of the soil samples analyzed contained microplastics, as did 92% of the samples of sheep feces studied. This, in turn, translates into concentrations of 2,000 particles of microplastics per kilogram of soil, and 1,000 particles per kilogram of dry feces.

This analysis reveals a relevant concentration of plastics and warns about the ingestion of this material by sheep; future studies should analyze how ingesting the plastic affects the organism of these animals.

Despite the negative effects of the plastic and its accumulation in intensive agriculture zones, it is very difficult to do away with that material since techniques such as the use of mulch film enable savings in water and pesticides; these prove to be determining factors in semi-arid zones with scant rainfall, as is the case of the Murcia zone.

Reverting this trend will therefore require a change in paradigm in current agricultural production so as to relegate intensive cropping to a secondary role. The Diverfarming project, financed by the H2020 call of the European Commission seeks, in this sense, to bring about a change in European agriculture towards an agriculture that is more sustainable and respectful to the environment. By means of the combination of crop diversification and sustainable farming practices they seek to look after the planet whilst ensuring the farmers’ economic benefits.

First look at a sustainable agricultural mulch

More information:
Nicolas Beriot et al, Low density-microplastics detected in sheep faeces and soil: A case study from the intensive vegetable farming in Southeast Spain, Science of The Total Environment (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142653
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University of Córdoba

Sheep show the contamination by microplastics in the agricultural soils of Murcia (2020, November 25)
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Even Mount Everest, the World’s Tallest Peak, Can’t Escape Microplastics | Smart News

Two years ago, scientists reported that plastic pollution has found its way into the Mariana Trench, the darkest, deepest part of the ocean. Now, plastic has officially infiltrated the highest point above sea level: Mount Everest.

A study published November 20 in the journal One Earth reveals microplastics have been found up and down Mount Everest in staggering concentrations, reports Carolyn Wilke for Science News.

Last year, a team of 34 scientists embarked on an icy expedition up Mount Everest to better understand how climate change is affecting the highest point above sea level on Earth. (Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is the furtherest point away from Earth’s core, and Mauna Kea is the tallest from base to peak.) As part of their research, they scooped up snow samples from various spots on the mountain and stored them in stainless steel jars to bring back to the lab for testing, reports Freddie Wilkinson for National Geographic. Upon analysis, the team found that all 11 of the samples they collected had tiny shreds of microplastics imbued in the snow, reports Science News.

“It really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analyzed,” lead author Imogen Napper, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth in England, says in a press release. “Mount Everest is somewhere I have always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.”

On average, the team detected around 30 bits of microplastics per quart of water. But they detected the highest concentration of microplastics—119 particles per quart of water—around Everest Base Camp, where climbers spend time resting, regrouping and acclimatizing to the high elevation, reports Damian Carrington for the Guardian.

Most of the fibers were polyester, but they also found significant traces of acrylic, polypropylene and nylon, reports National Geographic. Given the type of plastic and the fact that the highest concentrations were found around base camp, the fibers were most likely shed from the mountaineers’ clothing and equipment, such as insulated jackets, tents and ropes.

Microplastic fibers are so small that they are often invisible to the naked eye, but those tiny threads accumulate in massive numbers. A study published in February suggests that a two-pound synthetic jacket sheds 400 microplastic fibers for every 20 minutes of use. Over the course of a year, that jacket can shed a billion fibers, reports National Geographic.

Even the highest points of Everest weren’t spared from plastic pollution. Scientists found trace amounts of plastic at an elevation of 27,690 feet, just 1,345 feet shy of the mountain’s peak, reports Science News.

“These are the highest microplastics discovered so far,” Napper says. “While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth. With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care

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