Organic Consumers Association

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Care What You Wear

How Clothes Are Polluting the Food Supply

Every day, each and every one of us contribute to the ongoing destruction of the environment simply by participating in modern society.

Not only do people inappropriately dispose of drugs by flushing them down the toilet, the cleaning and personal care products we use and the clothes we wear and wash on a daily basis also contribute to the environmental pollution.

Indeed, the environmental impacts of our clothing choices are shocking, as studies assessing toxic effects of various fabric treatments (such as dyes, flame retardants and stain-resistant chemicals) to laundry detergents and the fabric fibers themselves need serious attention.

The Drawback of Fleece

Microfibers1 in particular have gained notoriety for posing a serious threat to marine life and migrating into fields and onto our plates. As noted by NPR:2

"The innovation of synthetic fleece has allowed many outdoor enthusiasts to hike with warmth and comfort.

But what many … don't know is that each wash … releases thousands of microscopic plastic fibers, or microfibers, into the environment — from their favorite national park to agricultural lands to waters with fish that make it back onto our plates.

This has scientists wondering: Are we eating our sweaters' synthetic microfibers?

Probably, says Chelsea Rochman, [Ph.D.,] an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, St. George. 'Microfibers seem to be one of the most common plastic debris items in animals and environmental samples,' Rochman says."

Microfibers Have Become a Very Significant Water Pollutant

Indeed, synthetic microfibers make up 85 percent of shoreline debris worldwide,3 and tend to be found in higher concentrations in beach sediment near waste water treatment plants.4

Water testing done by the Rozalia Project also showed microfibers are showing up in most water samples collected from the Hudson River.5 The fibers have also been found in both table salt6 and fish sold for human consumption.7

A 2015 study from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) directly linked microbead plastics and man-made microfibers to the pollution in fish,8 and when Abigail Barrows — chief investigator for Global Microplastics Initiative — sampled over 2,000 marine and freshwater fish, 90 percent had microfiber debris in their bodies.

Near identical results have been reported by Amy Lusher, a microplastics researcher based in the U.K. who co-authored a study9 on microplastic pollution in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, published in 2014. There really does not appear to be any place on Earth that remains unspoiled by plastic pollution.

As Abby Barrows, a microplastics researcher for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation told The Washington Post:10

"Working in this field of research … can be really depressing. I open up a box of water — it's from some beautiful place in Palau, and it's just full of plastics.

Or it's from Antarctica, and I think there's definitely not going to be anything in here. And it's just full of fragments. I haven't seen a sample that doesn't contain an alarming amount of plastic."

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