Scientists Discover Surprising Source Of Pollution: Our Closets

Mar 17, 2017

New research shows pollution in the Gulf of Mexico is coming from a source close to home: our closets. A team of scientists say plastic microfibers in polyester, nylon and acrylics are washing out of household fabrics and into the ocean.

Credit An Ceann Corr via flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/acreisner/

Scientists aren't just concerned about sytrofoam and plastic bags anymore. A team of researchers says microscopic pieces of plastic are showing up in water samples from throughout the Gulf Coast. And they think the tiny fibers are coming from our clothes. University of Florida scientist Maia McGuire is leading some of the research.

"Essentially they are from fabrics or other items that are made of little tiny threads of petroleum-based plastics. So when you think of fabric like polyester and nylon and acrylic. And at the same time think about ropes being made out of those types plastics, or tarpaulins or curtains or carpet..." she said.

Over time, those products shed tiny fragments of plastic. When those fabrics are washed, more microfibers make their way into wastewater, and can ultimately filter into the ocean.

And the plastic microfibers are beginning to show up in the stomachs of plankton, fish and oysters. But McGuire says there isn't a lot of information on how the pollutants are affecting marine organisms.

"That is something that a lot people are trying to figure out. We know a lot of organisms, a lot of marine life are consuming these plastics," McGuire said.

While scientists haven't nailed down the impacts of microfibers yet, they do have concerns.

"One is that we know that some of the nastier chemicals that are found in the water will stick to the surface of plastic. They actually prefer to attach to plastic than to be dissolved in water," McGuire said.

McGuire says the best way for consumers to limit pollution from plastic microfibers is to be more aware of their purchases, check the labels, and limit the use of plastic-based products.