Atmospheric microplastics: A review on current status and perspectives

Yulan Zhang, Shichang Kang, Steve Allen, Deonie Allen, Tanguang Gao, Mika Sillanpää

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

704 Citations (Scopus)


Microplastics have recently been detected in the atmosphere of urban, suburban, and even remote areas far away from source regions of microplastics, suggesting the potential long-distance atmospheric transport for microplastics. There still exist questions regarding the occurrence, fate, transport, and effect of atmospheric microplastics. These questions arise due to limited physical analysis and understanding of atmospheric microplastic pollution in conjunction with a lack of standardized sampling and identification methods. This paper reviews the current status of knowledge on atmospheric microplastics, the methods for sample collection, analysis and detection. We review and compare the methods used in the previous studies and provide recommendations for atmospheric microplastic sampling and measurement. Furthermore, we summarize the findings related to atmospheric microplastic characteristics, including abundance, size, shapes, colours, and polymer types. Microplastics occur in the atmosphere from urban to remote areas, with an abundance/deposition spanning 1–3 orders of magnitude across different sites. Fibres and fragments are the most frequently reported shapes and the types of plastic which generally aligns with world plastic demand. We conclude that atmospheric microplastics require further research and greater understanding to identify its global distributions and potential exposure to human health through further field sampling and implementation of standardized analytical protocols.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103118
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Atmospheric transport
  • Microplastics
  • Remote area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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