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How Do Microfibers Pollute Our Water System?

Microfibers are common forms of microplastics that pollute our water system. As the material builds up in the environment, it enters the food chain. Humans ingest nearly 44 pounds of plastic in their lifetimes from aquatic species.

Americans outsource a significant quantity of textiles, and many people are unaware of their purchasing impacts. Individuals must educate themselves about pollution to make sustainable changes.

Aquatic ecosystems are suffering from adverse effects deriving from the fast fashion industry. Companies can save time and money by using synthetic microfibers, but they contain toxic contaminants and often pollute our water system. 

Environmental Challenges With Microfiber Pollution

Before exploring how microfibers impact our water system and the global ecosystem, we must assess where they come from. Textile producers started using synthetic fibers to help clothing companies and consumers save money. Cotton is significantly more expensive compared to materials like polyester.

Polyester and other synthetic fibers derive from plastic, although the textiles do offer some environmental benefits. The fibers conserve agricultural resources, unlike water-intensive materials like cotton.

Manufacturers can also produce the material without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Generally, textiles are sourced from plants, causing harmful stormwater runoff. When growth additives reach the ocean, they increase algal blooms, deplete oxygen levels and endanger marine species.

While artificial materials minimize some harmful environmental effects, they also harm the planet. When they reach water sources, they degrade and release tiny plastic fibers into the ecosystem. Researchers calculate nearly 8 million tons of plastic pollutes the sea annually.

Microfibers are common forms of microplastics that pollute our water system. As the material builds up in the environment, it enters the food chain. Many aquatic species mistake the plastic fibers for food, increasing their progesterone levels and disrupting their endocrine systems.

Plastic materials also cause adverse effects on marine creatures’ organs and bloodstreams. Microfibers remain in their bodies forever, working their way up the food chain. Humans ingest nearly 44 pounds of plastic in their lifetimes from aquatic species.

Consuming plastic raises an individual’s risk of adverse health effects from chemical exposures. In the body, microfibers release toxins causing cancer, strokes, cardiovascular disease and auto-immune limitations.

Individuals can minimize microplastic pollution by identifying its sources. When we eliminate plastic waste in our water sources, we can preserve marine species’ and humanity’s well-being.

Microfibers enter the water supply in three ways.

1.   Wastewater From Washers

One of the most common sources of microplastic pollution is residential washing machines. When consumers clean synthetic materials, fibers break up and pollute the wastewater. Between 124 and 308 milligrams of plastic enters the water supply for every kilogram of washed clothing.

Polyester and cellulose materials release the highest amount of microfibers, harming aquatic and human health. If wastewater treatment plants can’t filter out the plastics, they may also pollute our drinking water.

2.   Stormwater Runoff

Nearly 85% of American clothing ends up in landfills. Over time, synthetic materials degrade into microplastics. When it rains, stormwater may carry the plastic particles away from the landfill.

Eventually, the runoff reaches lakes, rivers and reservoirs, polluting local water supplies. Professionals may calculate the number of microfibers in nonpotable water sources using an automatic sampler. The device is light, uses a powerful peristaltic pump and effectively preserves samples for accurate quality calculations.

3.   Facilities’ Illegal Dumping 

Microfiber pollution also derives from illegal factory dumping. Americans source most fast fashion items from less developed countries with minimal environmental conservation regulations. Some facilities manufacture clothing with synthetic fibers and dump their wastewater in nearby rivers.

Many individuals rely on these rivers as their primary water supply. Individuals and local government officials can increase the sustainability of their practices to minimize microfiber pollution.

Sustainable Solutions

It’s not a hopeless situation. Governments may improve water quality and safety by banning synthetic materials from the fashion industry, and environmental researchers can develop a more sustainable fabric. Consumers can additionally increase resource conservation by reducing their purchases and washing of artificial textiles. When people work together, true progress can be achieved.

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See more posts from Jane Marsh at environment.co

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