Synthetic fibers in atmospheric fallout: A source of microplastics in the environment?

Mar Pollut Bull. 2016 Mar 15;104(1-2):290-3. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.01.006. Epub 2016 Jan 17.


Sources, pathways and reservoirs of microplastics, plastic particles smaller than 5mm, remain poorly documented in an urban context. While some studies pointed out wastewater treatment plants as a potential pathway of microplastics, none have focused on the atmospheric compartment. In this work, the atmospheric fallout of microplastics was investigated in two different urban and sub-urban sites. Microplastics were collected continuously with a stainless steel funnel. Samples were then filtered and observed with a stereomicroscope. Fibers accounted for almost all the microplastics collected. An atmospheric fallout between 2 and 355 particles/m(2)/day was highlighted. Registered fluxes were systematically higher at the urban than at the sub-urban site. Chemical characterization allowed to estimate at 29% the proportion of these fibers being all synthetic (made with petrochemicals), or a mixture of natural and synthetic material. Extrapolation using weight and volume estimates of the collected fibers, allowed a rough estimation showing that between 3 and 10 tons of fibers are deposited by atmospheric fallout at the scale of the Parisian agglomeration every year (2500 km(2)). These results could serve the scientific community working on the different sources of microplastic in both continental and marine environments.

Keywords: Atmospheric fallout; Microplastic sources; Microplastics; Synthetic fibers; Urban environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Plastics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical