Your weekly wash releases harmful microplastics into the sea – here’s how to stop it

Fish exposed to fibres from our clothes are showing signs that microplastics are releasing harmful chemicals, according to a study by scientists at Duke University.

When we wash our clothes, fabrics made from synthetic materials shed tiny fibres into water that are then washed down the drain. Currently, most wastewater processing facilities don’t have the ability to remove these fibres meaning they end up in oceans, lakes and rivers. In some areas, they account for 90 per cent of microplastic pollution.

“Even if they are released miles from the ocean they can work their way down there. So they affect both freshwater and marine organisms,” says Duke University researcher Melissa Chernick.

Previous research has shown that fish end up eating a lot of these fibres and mechanisms in their digestive system allow them to pass through without much harm. This new study, however, suggests that the problem isn’t just with direct damage to the gut but with the chemical coatings on the plastics that are absorbed into the fish’s bloodstream.

While scientists are still working to identify the exact impact of these potentially toxic chemicals, some initial evidence shows that they are affecting reproductive hormones. More research needs to be done into whether these endocrine disruptors are passed on to us humans but given the number of fibres found in seafood, this could certainly be a cause for concern.

“Until now, most studies have focused on primarily on looking for the presence of plastics in animals without identifying what the effects on various tissues might be,” says Chernick. “But that’s exactly where our study suggests the science needs to go.”

If nothing else, the study proves that microfibre pollution is bad news for populations of marine life.


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