Photo/IllutrationPolypropylene found in the air in Fukuoka (Provided by Osamu Nagafuchi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

FUKUOKA--There's something in the air here and unfortunately, it's microplastics, according to the Fukuoka Institute of Technology (FIT).

The pollution of oceans due to such substances, which are formed when plastic waste like PET bottles breaks down due to the current and UV rays, has become a global problem.

On the assumption that microplastics travel through the air on a global scale, the team will continue to pursue related research.

Osamu Nagafuchi, a visiting professor at FIT who specializes in environmental science, collected air and rainwater samples from the roof of a building on campus from March to September.

When the samples were analyzed under an electron microscope and equipment that exposes materials to light, they discovered polyethylene, the most common plastic, and polypropylene dozens to a few hundred micrometers in size.

One micrometer is one-1000th of a millimeter.

Airborne microplastics are much smaller than those in oceans, which tend to be less than 5 mm.

The pollution of oceans by such materials has become an urgent issue, as sea creatures swallow the potentially harmful substances.

Scientific papers on airborne microplastics have been published one after another this year, revealing that they have been found even in such remote places as the Pyrenees mountain range in Europe and the Arctic Circle.

It is believed that microplastics can become airborne from urban areas and the sea due to winds and travel long distances. Nagafuchi and other researchers plan to analyze the rain, snow and white ice deposits on trees at Yakushima island, Mount Kuju and Mount Fuji, in addition to their studies of the air in Fukuoka and Tokyo.

They also hope to determine the paths the microplastics take in the air.

While it is unclear what the negative effects are of humans and other living creatures ingesting microplastics, Nagafuchi warned, "It's conceivable that humans could inhale microplastics containing harmful substances such as PCB and DDT."

He added that he is seeking to develop a technique to analyze airborne microplastics efficiently, as they are extremely small.