You and I May Never Summit Everest But Microplastics Already Have

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Regular readers no doubt have heard about the problems we have been having at Naked Capitalism this week. Mine have been particularly severe, though I understand some of the weirder ones have now migrated to Lambert as well.

So I have been slowed in my production of original posts, including one on the First Amendment that mentions the less than full-throated defence by the spineless man who later became our president. But I have not had stable enough access to finish that post to my satisfaction so I’m substituting this more whimsical one instead. Rest assured, you’ll get that First Amendment post soon. The issue isn’t going anywhere and will still be around after our problems at Naked Capitalism have gone away.

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The Guardian ran an article today about another extreme natural environment invaded by the scourge of microplastics. Microplastic pollution found near summit of Mount Everest:

Microplastic pollution has been discovered in snow close to the peak of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. With plastic debris revealed in 2018 at the deepest point on Earth, the Mariana Trench, it is now clear that humanity’s litter has polluted the entire planet.

The tiny plastic fibres were found within a few hundred metres of the top of the 8,850-metre mountain, at a spot known as the balcony. Microplastics were found in all the snow samples collected from 11 locations on Everest, ranging from 5,300 metres to 8,440 metres high.

The highest concentrations of microplastics were found around Base Camp, where climbers and trekkers spend the most time. The fibres were most likely to have come from the clothing, tents and ropes used by mountaineers, the scientists said. Other recent discoveries of microplastic pollution in remote parts of the Swiss Alps and French Pyrenees indicate the particles can also be carried by the wind from further afield.

Everest has long captured our imagination, whatever the period, and the mountaineer, whether it be Mallory or Hillary or others. That’s not to mention the wonderful literature it has inspired, including Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, , about how close George Mallory came to conquering the summit, dying in the attempt; and Jon Krakauer’s harrowing Into Thin Air, about how summiting was translated from something only elite mountaineers could hope to attain to how it was available to rich socialites with sufficient bucks at their disposal

Let anyone inspired by these heroic tales deny it’s past time to develop some solution to the plastics calamity. From the Guardian:

Reducing, reusing and recycling larger items of plastic waste is important, Napper said, as they can be broken down into microplastics when discarded into the environment. But many microplastics are shed from clothing made from synthetic fabrics, and she said a focus on better fabrics was needed, as well as using natural fibres such as cotton when possible.

Millions of tonnes of plastic are lost into the environment every year. It can contain toxic additives and carry harmful microbes and is known to injure wildlife that mistake it for food.

People also consume microplastics via food and water, and breathe them in, although the health impact is not yet known.

There have been longstanding concerns about litter on Everest, which was climbed by at least 880 people in 2019. But the new study is the first to assess microplastic pollution, which is less than 5mm in size and therefore too small to be picked up.

The study, published in the journal One Earth, analysed samples collected by a National Geographic expedition in 2019. The scientists found an average of 30 microplastic particles per litre of water in the snow samples and 119 particles per litre in the most contaminated sample. They also assessed stream water samples from eight locations, but only three had microplastics, perhaps as the streams were able to wash away contamination.

In her previous work, Napper has found that each cycle of a washing machine can release 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres, and that plastic bags that claim to be biodegradable were still intact after three years in the natural environment.

I have never hiked on the mountain, but have seen it close to from a chartered aircraft, and once circumnavigated some of the world’s largest peaks by a jeep and foot journey around the Singlalia Trek. If anyplace on earth could avoid microplastics contamination, one would imagine this would be it. Alas, it is so sad that it too has not escaped.

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