Quantifying shedding of synthetic fibers from textiles; a source of microplastics released into the environment

Microplastics in the environment are a subject of intense research as they pose a potential threat to marine organisms. Plastic fibers from textiles have been indicated as a major source of this type of contaminant, entering the oceans via wastewater and diverse non-point sources. Their presence is also documented in terrestrial samples. In this study, the amount of microfibers shedding from synthetic textiles was measured for three materials (acrylic, nylon, polyester), knit using different gauges and techniques. All textiles were found to shed, but polyester fleece fabrics shed the greatest amounts, averaging 7360 fibers/m−2/L−1 in one wash, compared with polyester fabrics which shed 87 fibers/m−2/L−1. We found that loose textile constructions shed more, as did worn fabrics, and high twist yarns are to be preferred for shed reduction. Since fiber from clothing is a potentially important source of microplastics, we suggest that smarter textile construction, prewashing and vacuum exhaustion at production sites, and use of more efficient filters in household washing machines could help mitigate this problem.

Bethanie M. Carney Almroth, Linn Åström, Sofia Roslund, Hanna Petersson, Mats Johansson, Nils-Krister Persson, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, pp 1–9,

The article


Evaluation of microplastic release caused by textile washing processes of synthetic fabrics

Image 1A new and more alarming source of marine contamination has been recently identified in micro and nanosized plastic fragments. Microplastics are difficult to see with the naked eye and to biodegrade in marine environment, representing a problem since they can be ingested by plankton or other marine organisms, potentially entering the food web. An important source of microplastics appears to be through sewage contaminated by synthetic fibres from washing clothes. Since this phenomenon still lacks of a comprehensive analysis, the objective of this contribution was to investigate the role of washing processes of synthetic textiles on microplastic release. In particular, an analytical protocol was set up, based on the filtration of the washing water of synthetic fabrics and on the analysis of the filters by scanning electron microscopy. The quantification of the microfibre shedding from three different synthetic fabric types, woven polyester, knitted polyester, and woven polypropylene, during washing trials simulating domestic conditions, was achieved and statistically analysed. The highest release of microplastics was recorded for the wash of woven polyester and this phenomenon was correlated to the fabric characteristics. Moreover, the extent of microfibre release from woven polyester fabrics due to different detergents, washing parameters and industrial washes was evaluated. The number of microfibres released from a typical 5 kg wash load of polyester fabrics was estimated to be over 6,000,000 depending on the type of detergent used. The usage of a softener during washes reduces the number of microfibres released of more than 35%. The amount and size of the released microfibres confirm that they could not be totally retained by wastewater treatments plants, and potentially affect the aquatic environment.

Francesca De Falco, Maria Pia Gullo, Gennaro Gentile and al., Environmental Pollution, Available online 27 October 2017, In Press

The article

Impact of microplastic beads and fibers on waterflea (Ceriodaphnia dubia) survival, growth, and reproduction: implications of single and mixture exposures

There is limited knowledge regarding the adverse effects of wastewater-derived microplastics, particularly fibers, on aquatic biota. In this study, we examined the acute (48 h) and chronic (8 d) effects of microplastic polyester fibers and polyethylene (PE) beads on freshwater zooplankton Ceriodaphnia dubia. We also assessed the acute response of C. dubia to a binary mixture of microplastic beads and fibers for the first time. Acute exposure to fibers and PE beads both showed a dose-dependent effect on survival. An equitoxic binary mixture of beads and fibers resulted in a toxic unit of 1.85 indicating less than additive effects. Chronic exposure to lower concentrations did not significantly affect survival of C. dubia, but a dose-dependent effect on growth and reproduction was observed. Fibers showed greater adverse effects than PE beads. While ingestion of fibers was not observed, scanning electron microscopy showed carapace and antenna deformities after exposure to fibers, with no deformities observed after exposure to PE beads. While much of the current research has focused on microplastic beads, our study shows that microplastic fibers pose a greater risk to C. dubia, with reduced reproductive output observed at concentrations within an order of magnitude of reported environmental levels.

Shima Ziajahromi, Anupama Kumar, Peta A. Neale, and Frederic D. L. Leusch, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, October 23, 2017

Are we underestimating microplastic contamination in aquatic environments?

Plastic debris, specifically microplastic in the aquatic environment, is an escalating environmental crisis. Efforts at national scales to reduce or ban microplastics in personal care products are starting to pay off, but this will not affect those materials already in the environment or those that result from unregulated products and materials. To better inform future microplastic research and mitigation efforts this study (1) evaluates methods currently used to quantify microplastics in the environment and (2) characterizes the concentration and size distribution of microplastics in a variety of products. In this study, 50 published aquatic surveys were reviewed and they demonstrated that most (~80%) only account for plastics ≥ 300 μm in diameter. In addition, we surveyed 770 personal care products to determine the occurrence, concentration and size distribution of polyethylene microbeads. Particle concentrations ranged from 1.9 to 71.9 mg g−1 of product or 1649 to 31,266 particles g−1 of product. The large majority ( > 95%) of particles in products surveyed were less than the 300 μm minimum diameter, indicating that previous environmental surveys could be underestimating microplastic contamination. To account for smaller particles as well as microfibers from synthetic textiles, we strongly recommend that future surveys consider methods that materials < 300 μm in diameter.

Jeremy L. Conkle, Christian D. Báez Del Valle, Jeffrey W. Turner, Environmental Management, pp 1–8,

The article

Ingestion of microplastics by freshwater Tubifex worms

Microplastic contamination of the aquatic environment is a global issue. Microplastics can be ingested by organisms leading to negative physiological impacts. The ingestion of microplastics by freshwater invertebrates has not been reported outside the laboratory. Here we demonstrate the ingestion of microplastic particles by Tubifex tubifex in a major urban waterbody fed by the River Irwell, Manchester, UK. The host sediments had microplastic concentrations ranging from 56 to 2544 particles kg-1. 87% of the Tubifex ingested microplastic particles were microfibres (55 – 4100 µm in length), whilst the remaining 13% were fragments (50 – 4500 µm in length). FT-IR analysis revealed ingestion of a range of polymers, including polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) and acrylic fibres. Whilst microbeads were present in the host sediment matrix, they were not detected in Tubifex worm tissue. However, there was limited selectivity in the ingestion of microplastics within the fragment or fiber subtypes. The mean concentration of ingested microplastics was 129 ± 65.4 particles g-1 tissue. We also show that Tubifex worms retain microplastics longer than other components of the ingested sediment matrix. Microplastic ingestion by Tubifex worms poses a significant risk for trophic transfer and biomagnification of microplastics up the aquatic food chain.

Rachel R Hurley, Jamie C Woodward, and James J. Rothwell, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, October 11, 2017

Occurrence and distribution of microplastics at selected coastal sites along the southeastern United States

To investigate the occurrence and distribution of microplastics in the southeastern coastal region of the United States, we quantified the amount of microplastics in sand samples from multiple coastal sites and developed a predictive model to understand the drift of plastics via ocean currents. Sand samples from eighteen National Park Service (NPS) beaches in the Southeastern Region were collected and microplastics were isolated from each sample. Microplastic counts were compared among sites and local geography was used to make inferences about sources and modes of distribution. Samples were analyzed to identify the composition of particles using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). To predict the spatiotemporal distribution and movements of particles via coastal currents, a Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) was applied. Microplastics were detected in each of the sampled sites although abundance among sites was highly variable. Approximately half of the samples were dominated by thread-like and fibrous materials as opposed to beads and particles. Results of FTIR suggested that 24% consisted of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), while about 68% of the fibers tested were composed of man-made cellulosic materials such as rayon. Based on published studies examining sources of microplastics, the shape of the particles found here (mostly fibers) and the presence of PET, we infer the source of microplastics in coastal areas is mainly from urban areas, such as wastewater discharge, rather than breakdown of larger marine debris drifting in the ocean. Local geographic features, e.g., the nearness of sites to large rivers and urbanized areas, explain variance in amount of microplastics among sites. Additionally, the distribution of simulated particles is explained by ocean current patterns; computer simulations were correlated with field observations, reinforcing the idea that ocean currents can be a good predictor of the fate and distribution of microplastics at the sites sampled here.

Xubiao Yu, Samantha Ladewig, Shaowu Bao, Catherine A. Toline, Stefanie Whitmire, Alex T. Chow, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 613–614, 1 February 2018, Pages 298-305

The article

New Study Reveals Global Water Supply Contaminated by Microplastic Fibers

Microplastics — extremely small pieces (less than 5 mm) of plastic debris resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste — have been found in tap water around the globe, according to a new report by Orb Media, a D.C.-based nonprofit digital newsroom. The discovery has led to a call from the scientific community for urgent research on microplastics’ implications for human health.

Designed by Dr. Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia and Elizabeth Wattenberg at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health, the tap water study screened 159 half liter drinking water samples from 14 countries: Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Slovakia, Switzerland, Uganda, the UK and the US. Overall, 83 percent of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers.

European countries demonstrated the lowest level of contamination, though this was still 72 percent. The average number of microplastics found in each 500ml sample ranged from 1.9 in Europe to 4.8 in the US. (…) (sustainablebrands.com, 11/09/2017, Orb media)

The news

Orb media – Invisibles plastics