Fabrics fouling seas
POLYESTER, acrylics and other synthetic fabrics generate thousands of tiny microparticles of plastic every time they are washed and dried, and those particles are ending up in our oceans and coastal beaches, according to two new studies.
Unlike the plastic bags and other trash that form giant, floating trash islands or the smaller pieces that can often be found in sea creatures’ stomachs – like the 3,400 pieces recently recovered from the large intestine of a small green turtle off the coast of Brazil – these microparticles are nearly invisible to the eye, from 1mm down to 10 micrometres in diameter.
But their tiny size adds up. According to a study published online last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, laundering just one garment made from synthetic fibres can produce more than 1,900 fibres per wash. The worst offenders were fleece fabrics. Polar fleece is often made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or other synthetic fibres.
And even though these particles are small, their potential environmental danger is large.
According to the study’s abstract, “ingestion of microplastic provides a potential pathway for the transfer of pollutants, monomers and plasticadditives to organisms with uncertain consequences for their health.”
Lead author Mark Anthony Browne of University College Dublin in Ireland tested shorelines in 18 sites representing six continents. They found microplastic contaminates at each site, and observed that the main source of these particles appeared to be sewage. Forensic analysis showed that the polyester and acrylic fibres came from clothing, and therefore from washing machines.
Another study published in July in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin examined the effect of larger plastic trash that broke down into smaller microparticles due to weathering. It found that “microplastics concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), absorbing other pollutants from the ocean water, making them more dangerous as time goes by.”
According to Ecology Centre in Berkeley, California, the health effects from humans ingesting polyester include respiratory-tract irritation and skin rashes, while acrylics can cause breathing difficulties and nausea. – Mother Nature Network/MCT Information Services