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Scientists make concerning discovery while analyzing Ganges River: 'There has always been uncertainty'

Their continued presence could be a ticking time bomb.

Their continued presence could be a ticking time bomb.

Photo Credit: iStock

The Ganges River, stretching for about 1,600 miles through India and Bangladesh, is thought to be one of the most polluted water sources in the world.

Despite its cultural and religious significance and its importance to the survival of more than 400 million people in India alone, the river is contaminated with sewage, tannery waste, slaughterhouse runoff, and disposed chemicals, according to Geographical.

Now a study has revealed the impact that plastic pollution is having on the waterway.

What's happening?

Researchers have discovered that the water in the Ganges, as well as river sediment and even the surrounding air, is filled with microplastics.

Earth.com summarized the study, which revealed an average of 41 microplastic particles were found to settle from the atmosphere per square meter (about 11 square feet) per day. That's in addition to 57 microplastic particles per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sediment and one plastic particle in every 20 liters (5.2 gallons) of water.

"We have known for some time that rivers are key pathways for the transfer of microplastics to marine environments," Dr. Imogen Napper, research fellow at the University of Plymouth and National Geographic explorer, said, per Earth.com. "However, there has always been uncertainty about the sheer amounts being transported, and whether they represent long-term sinks.

"This study goes some way to unraveling that mystery, and revealing the true scale of microplastic contamination that our river systems can represent."

Why is this concerning?

Any type of water pollution is concerning, with it being the lifeblood of every creature and plant on Earth. However, since the effects of microplastic pollution haven't fully been defined, their continued presence could be a ticking time bomb.

Microplastics are pervasive, and studies have shown they have the capability to break through the brain-blood barrier, which could increase the risk of depression and diseases, including Alzheimer's. 

Meanwhile, microplastics have also been found in organs such as the lungs, liver, heart, and gastrointestinal tract of mice, so the same is likely to be true for other mammals.

In rivers, too, microplastic and large plastic pollution will likely be ingested by aquatic animals, leading to choking and starvation, in addition to microplastics likely turning up in fish to be eaten by humans. 

What can be done about plastic pollution?

It's a worldwide problem, but the solutions begin at home. Avoiding single-use plastics such as water bottles and food bags for reusable alternatives will reduce the amount of waste we produce on a daily basis.

But you can make a difference with how you spend your money, too. Avoiding plastic-wrapped fruits and vegetables in favor of unwrapped items will signal that consumers no longer want to have their items covered in clear film. Growing your food at home can also eliminate the problem, as you can pluck your fruits and veggies straight from the ground, plant, tree, or vine.

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