Microfiber diet? Humans and other animals are consuming these synthetics
Editor’s note: This report is part two of a three-part series on the emerging threat of microfiber pollution. In part one, we explored where microfibers come from and where they are found in the environment. In part three, we look at who’s working to solve the problem.
It’s 7:48 p.m. Jan. 8, 2018, and rain is quenching San Mateo, California’s parched suburban streets. I park my car and don my waterproof jacket and pants, yank on knee-high plastic rain boots, and trudge over to Carolynn Box, science programs director for the 5 Gyres Institute, and Diana Lin, environmental scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI). Standing on a footbridge over San Mateo Creek, we are all wrapped, head to toe, in foul weather gear — all of it plastic in one textile form or another. Box plunges a rigid plastic tube into the swiftly moving creek as Lin turns on a pump. Making a loud wamp-wamp-wamp sound, like a sewing machine, it slurps up a 5-gallon sample of water from the swiftly moving stream.
A passerby inquires what we’re up to. Someone quips, “We’re bottling water to sell it!” Everyone chuckles.
In fact, the creek sampling is part of a two-year research project in which SFEI and 5 Gyres are analyzing microplastics — synthetic fragments 0.2 inches or smaller — in water, sediment, fish and wastewater treatment plant effluent released into San Francisco Bay. This includes microfibers — thread-shaped microplastics — shed from synthetic apparel, like the clothes we are all wrapped in.
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