Microplastic air pollution study continues during pandemic

Tiny particles of plastic are showing up in unlikely places, which has prompted potentially...
Tiny particles of plastic are showing up in unlikely places, which has prompted potentially groundbreaking research.(WAFB)
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 11:08 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Researchers are among those who have had their work impacted by the shutdowns and pandemic-related regulations. At LSU, the journey to understand the microscopic world of plastics had to adjust.

RELATED: It’s in the air we breathe: Microplastic in the atmosphere prompts new study at LSU

“Early on, we were planning on doing the research in the field,” said LSU Chemical Engineering Professor Bhuvnesh Bharti. “Because of the lockdowns, we couldn’t do the field work.”

The research is being made possible by a $300,000 grant provided by the National Science Foundation of Chemistry Division. The team has two years to complete its research on microplastics in the air. Although the team could get an extension, the additional time of training becomes a factor.

“Hiring students became an issue due to COVID,” Bharti explained. “We don’t have enough time to get the students and get him or her trained to do the field work. Lab work is easier.”

Moving the study to the lab was the only realistic option. And it’s a good thing they did because what they’re learning is remarkable.

“We learned that we know less than we thought,” Bharti said bluntly.

Understanding microplastics is really the name of the game at this point in the research. So much of what industry needs to do to move forward with ecologically responsible projects hinges on microplastics research.

“The first microplastics were discovered in the 1970s,” he noted. “The question at this point is how did they get there and why would they get there? Unless we understand this whole process, there’s no way we can have effective mitigation efforts. It’s very important to understand the basic science of that state.”

The team is getting close to releasing some initial findings of the research. Until then, he can only say that if the research keeps going the way it’s going, the implications could be far more significant than first hypothesized.

“We really don’t know their health impact,” he stressed. “We know this is taking place, but we don’t know whether it’s dangerous or not.”

At the end of the day, that’s why this research is so important.

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