We tend to think that only those living in densely populated urban environments are exposed to pollution, but that’s not the case. As reported by NPR’s Christopher Joyce, microplastics — fragments smaller than a fifth of an inch, broken down from larger pieces of plastic — have just been found in a remote area, 4,500 feet up in the Pyrenees mountains.

A team of researchers from Scotland and France analyzed samples of dust, rain, and snow from the Bernadouze meteorological station in the mountains in southwest France, and found that hundreds of plastic particles fell each day. On average, daily, during the five-month experiment, they found 365 plastic particles on a 10.7 square feet surface. The microplastics found were fibers from clothing, parts of plastic bags, plastic film, and packaging material.

This startling find shows that not only urbanites are at risk of inhaling toxic microplastics. While more research is needed to determine the exact risks for humans, studies show that plastic particles impair reproduction and damage the digestive tracts of various animal species.

It’s unclear right now how to prevent microplastics from spreading, but the simplest solution seems to be pretty obvious: produce less plastic, and keep it out of the environment in the first place.

H/T: Smithsonian.com