Atmospheric transport of microplastics during a dust storm
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Dust storms are common events in arid and semi-arid regions that have a wide range of impacts on the environment and human health. This study addresses the presence, characteristics and potential sources of microplastics (MPs) in such events by analysing MPs deposited with dust particles in the metropolis of Shiraz, southwest Iran, following an intense storm in May 2018. At 22 locations throughout the city, MP concentrations on a number basis ranged from 0.04 to 1.06 per g of dust (median = 0.31 MP g-1). Particles were mainly fibrous, with a mean diameter of about 20 μm and >60% under 100 μm in length, and polymer makeup was dominated by nylon, polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate. Examination of selected MPs by scanning electron microscopy revealed varying degrees of weathering and contamination by extraneous geogenic particles amongst the samples. Using published MP concentrations in urban dusts and remote, arid soils, we estimate that between about 0.1 and 5% of MPs deposited by the dust storm are derived from local sources within the metropolis, with the remainder arising from more distant sources. HYSPLIT modelling, satellite imagery and published geochemical signatures of regional dust particles suggest that the deserts of Saudi Arabia constitute the principal distal and transboundary source. Dust storms may represent a significant means by which MPs are transported and redistributed in arid and semi-arid environments and an important source of MPs to the oceans.
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