Tuesday, October 25, 2011
When most people think of plastic pollution in the sea, they tend to picture bottles washing up on beaches, say, or the vast garbage patch in the Pacific.
What few may realize is that waste water from washing machines is an important source of plastic pollution in oceans, according to a recent article in Environmental Science and Technology.
Over the last decade, scientists have become increasingly alarmed about a type of pollution that cannot be seen.
Micrometer-size fragments of plastics like acrylic, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyamide and polyester have contaminated the surface waters of the northeast Atlantic as well as shoreline habitats in Britain, Singapore and India, the researchers write.
The scientists said there was evidence that the microplastics are being eaten by animals, who store them in their tissues and cells for months with probably negative consequences for their health and that of the humans who eat marine creatures.
To discover the sources of the microplastics, a team of scientists led by Mark Anthony Browne, a biologist with University College in Dublin, took samples from shore environments on six continents.
Researchers found that the proportions of synthetic fibers in marine sediments were akin to those found in artificial textiles.
Examining washing-machine waste water, they found that 1,900 fibers can rinse off a single garment during a wash cycle and that those fibers look just like the microplastic debris on shorelines.
As the human population increases, they say, the problem is likely grow.
The authors suggest that clothing and washing machine designers need to be aware of the problem and to seek ways to reduce the release of fibers into waste water.