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Marine scientists and textile scientists need to cooperate to solve the microfiber problem

Posted by Judith Weis | New York, United States

When synthetic clothes are washed in machines, they release thousands of plastic microfibers into the water that are too small to be captured in standard filters in the washing machine see. These fibers are plastic because synthetic clothing is made from petroleum, like plastic. Even though sewage plants capture a lot of them, huge numbers are released daily into aquatic systems, as seen in the image from "The Story of Stuff." Contaminants from the water adhere to them. They are eaten by marine life such as shellfish or plankton, which are then eaten by fish where they can have harmful effects. Most species from fish markets were found to have microplastics in them; a direct link to the human food chain. A serving of oysters includes many pieces of plastic. Microfibers are ubiquitous – they are found in the deepest parts of the ocean, Arctic sea ice, the air and drinking water, so all of us are exposed, whether or not we eat seafood. Marine scientists have been studying this problem, learning more about the sources, distributions, movements, and effects of microfibers on aquatic life, but are unable to solve the problem by ourselves. A large part of the solution should lie at the beginning of the process – the manufacture of synthetic textiles. Fiber and textile scientists have the expertise to help solve the problem by modifying the way in which synthetic textiles are made so that they won’t shed (as many) fibers. Workshops and meetings should be planned to bring together textile and environmental scientists to discuss these issues and devise ways to work together to solve this problem that is simultaneously tiny and enormous.

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