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MICROFIBER news, research, solutions and all things microfiber pollution

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEM YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF?

Aquatic organisms throughout the food chain consume microplastics and microfibers both directly and indirectly. Within the food chain, these particles have been found to cause physical and chemical impacts, resulting in starvation and reproductive consequences in species. Microplastics and microfibers have also been found in marine species directly consumed by humans, the effects of which are as yet unknown. They have also been found in abiotic products like sea salt, honey and beer. Read on to find out more.

ACCUMULATION OF MICROPLASTIC ON SHORELINES WORLDWIDE: SOURCES AND SINKS

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Plastic debris <1 mm (defined here as microplastic) is accumulating in marine habitats. Ingestion of microplastic provides a potential pathway for the transfer of pollutants, monomers, and plastic-additives to organisms with uncertain consequences for their health. Here, we show that microplastic contaminates the shorelines at 18 sites worldwide representing six continents from the poles to the equator, with more material in densely populated areas, but no clear relationship between the abundance of miocroplastics and the mean size-distribution of natural particulates. An important source of microplastic appears to be through sewage contaminated by fibers from washing clothes. Forensic evaluation of microplastic from sediments showed that the proportions of polyester and acrylic fibers used in clothing resembled those found in habitats that receive sewage-discharges and sewage-effluent itself. Experiments sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines demon- strated that a single garment can produce >1900 fibers per wash. This suggests that a large proportion of microplastic fibers found in the marine environment may be derived from sewage as a consequence of washing of clothes. As the human population grows and people use more synthetic textiles, contamination of habitats and animals by microplastic is likely to increase.

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THIS NEW YORK RIVER DUMPS MILLIONS OF FABRIC MICROFIBERS INTO THE OCEAN DAILY

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The Hudson River dumps 300 million clothing fibers into the Atlantic Ocean each day, according to a recent study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Many of the fibers come from aging clothes, rinsed out with the laundry and into the environment. Approximately half of the fibers were plastic, while the remainder were spun from natural materials like cotton or wool. Invisible to the naked eye, these fibers can cause health problems for animals and humans.

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ARE WE EATING OUR FLEECE JACKETS? MICROFIBERS ARE MIGRATING INTO FIELD AND FOOD

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The innovation of synthetic fleece has allowed many outdoor enthusiasts to hike with warmth and comfort. But what many of these fleece-wearing nature lovers don't know is that each wash of their jackets and pullovers releases thousands of microscopic plastic fibers, or microfibers, into the environment — from their favorite national park to agricultural lands to waters with fish that make it back onto our plates. This has scientists wondering: Are we eating our sweaters' synthetic microfibers? Probably, says Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, St. George. "Microfibers seem to be one of the most common plastic debris items in animals and environmental samples," Rochman says. In fact, peer-reviewed studies have shown that these synthetic microfibers — a type of plastic smaller than a millimeter in length and made up of various synthetic polymers — have popped up in table salt in China, in arctic waters and in fish caught off the coast of California. These tiny fibers make up 85 percent of human debris on shorelines across the globe, according to a 2011 study.

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MARINE ENVIRONMENT MICROFIBER CONTAMINATION: GLOBAL PATTERNS AND THE DIVERSITY OF MICROPARTICLE ORIGINS

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Microplastic and microfiber pollution has been documented in all major ocean basins. Microfibers are one of the most common microparticle pollutants along shorelines. Over 9 million tons of fibers are produced annually; 60% are synthetic and ∼25% are non-synthetic. Non-synthetic and semi-synthetic microfibers are infrequently documented and not typically included in marine environment impact analyses, resulting in underestimation of a potentially pervasive and harmful pollutant. We present the most extensive worldwide microparticle distribution dataset using 1-liter grab samples (n = 1393). Our citizen scientist driven study shows a global microparticle average of 11.8 ± 24.0 particles L-1 (mean ± SD), approximately three orders of magnitude higher than global model predictions. Open ocean samples showed consistently higher densities than coastal samples, with the highest concentrations found in the polar oceans (n = 51), confirming previous empirical and theoretical studies. Particles were predominantly microfibers (91%) and 0.1-1.5 mm in length (77%), a smaller size than those captured in the majority of surface studies. Using μFT-IR we determined the material types of 113 pieces; 57% were classified as synthetic, 12% as semi-synthetic, and 31% as non-synthetic. Samples were taken globally, including from coastal environments and understudied ocean regions. Some of these sites are emerging as areas of concentrated floating plastic and anthropogenic debris, influenced by distant waste mismanagement and/or deposition of airborne particles. Incorporation of smaller-sized microfibers in oceanographic models, which has been lacking, will help us to better understand the movement and transformation of synthetic, semi-synthetic and non-synthetic microparticles in regional seas and ocean basins.

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EMISSIONS OF MICROPLASTIC FIBERS FROM MICROFBIER FLEECE DURING DOMESTIC WASHING

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Microplastics are found in marine and freshwater environments; however, their specific sources are not yet well understood. Understanding sources will be of key importance in efforts to reduce emissions into the environment. We examined the emissions of microfibers from domestic washing of a new microfiber polyester fleece textile. Analyzing released fibers collected with a 200 μm filter during 10 mild, successive washing cycles showed that emission initially decreased and then stabilized at approx. 0.0012 wt%. This value is our estimation for the long-term release of fibers during each washing. Use of detergent and softener did not significantly influence emission. Release of fibers during tumble drying was approx. 3.5 times higher than during washing.

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SINGLE CLOTHES WASH MAY RELEASE 700,000 MICROPLASTIC FIBRES, STUDY FINDS

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Each cycle of a washing machine could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment, according to a study. A team at Plymouth University in the UK spent 12 months analysing what happened when a number of synthetic materials were washed at different temperatures in domestic washing machines, using different combinations of detergents, to quantify the microfibres shed. They found that acrylic was the worst offender, releasing nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash, five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric, and nearly 1.5 times as many as polyester.

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ABUNDANT PLANKTON-SIZED MICROPLASTIC PARTICLES IN SHELF WATERS OF THE NORTHERN GULF OF MEXICO

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Accumulation of marine debris is a global problem that affects the oceans on multiple scales. The majority of floating marine debris is composed of microplastics: plastic particles up to 5 mm in diameter. With similar sizes and appearances to natural food items, these small fragments pose potential risks to many marine organisms including zooplankton and zooplanktivores. Semi-enclosed seas are reported to have high concentrations of microplastics, however, the distribution and concentration of microplastics in one such system, the Gulf of Mexico, remains unknown. Our study documented and characterized microplastics in continental shelf waters off the Louisiana coast in the northern Gulf of Mexico, using bongo nets, neuston nets, and Niskin bottles. Additionally, we compared the size distributions of microplastics and zooplankton collected using the nets. Plastics were manually sorted from the samples, documented, and measured using digital microscopy. Confirmation of putative plastics was carried out by hydrofluoric acid digestion and a subsample was analyzed using FTIR microscopy. Estimated concentrations of microplastics collected on the inner continental shelf during this study are among the highest reported globally. Total microplastic concentrations ranged from 4.8 to 8.2 particles m3 and 5.0e18.4 particles m3 for the bongo and neuston samples, respectively. Niskin bottles collected smaller plastic particles than the nets and indicated total microplastic concentrations (primarily fibers) from 6.0E4 e 15.7E4 particles m3. Microplastic concentrations were greater than the abundances of all but four of the five most abundant taxa from bongo nets and were not statistically different from the abundances of any of the most numerous taxa from neuston nets. Sizes of microplastics and zooplankton partially or completely overlapped, suggesting the potential for confusion with natural prey.

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HOW MICROFIBERS IN CLOTHES ARE POLLUTING OUR OCEANS

CBS THIS MORNING

FROM FISH TO HONEY: NOTHING IS SAFE FROM MICROPLASTICS

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We’re increasingly aware of how plastic is polluting our environment. Much recent attention has focused on how microplastics – tiny pieces ranging from 5 millimetres down to 100 nanometres in diameter – are filling the seas and working their way into the creatures that live in them. That means these ocean microplastics are entering the food chain and, ultimately, our bodies.

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WAR ON MICROFIBER POLLUTION STARTS IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM

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MARCH 6, 2018 PORTLAND, MAINE—The fight to keep tiny pollutants from reaching the dinner plate might start in the laundry room.

Innovators are coming up with tools to keep tiny pieces of thread that are discharged with washing machine effluent from reaching marine life. Such "microfibers" are too small to be caught in conventional filters, so they eventually pass through sewage plants, wash out to waterways, and can be eaten or absorbed by marine animals, some later served up as seafood. So far there are at least four products, with names such as Guppyfriend and Cora Ball, aimed at curbing microfibers.

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Credits:

Created with images by naomi tamar - "untitled image" • Richard Kirby • Andrei Ciobanu - "Conscience" • Fabien Bazanegue - "Moroccan laundry" • David Clode - "Starfish underside" • Tyler Nix - "untitled image" • Ousa Chea - "Microscope" • Romain Robe - "untitled image" • FotoshopTofs - "phytoplankton plankton living organism base of the" • Simson Petrol - "Pollution" • Dan Gold - "untitled image"

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