02/24/2017

How Clothes Are Polluting the Food Supply

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Author: Dr. Joeseph Mercola | Published: February 21, 2017 

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.”

Microfibers Are Also a Potential Food Contaminant

Microfibers, which are more prevalent than microbeads (found in face scrubs and similar items), are particularly detrimental as the fibers are easily consumed by fish and other wildlife, accumulating in the gut and concentrating in the bodies of other animals higher up the food chain.

In one study, microfibers raised mortality among water fleas.11 In another, the presence of fibers were found to reduce overall food intake of crabs, worms and langoustines (aka Norway lobster),12,13 thereby threatening their growth and survival rates.

Making matters worse, these microscopic plastic fibers actually soak up toxins like a sponge, concentrating polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and oil in ever higher amounts as you move up the food chain.

Factors That Worsen Microfiber Release

Tests show each washing of a synthetic fleece jacket releases an average of 1.7 grams of microfiber, and may release as much as 2.7 grams.14,15,16 For comparison, a paperclip weighs about 1.5 grams.

The older the jacket, the more microfibers are released,17 and lower quality generic brand fleece was also found to shed 170 percent more over its lifespan than higher quality fleece.

Separate research18,19 published in Marine Pollution Bulletin found that the type of fabric also makes a difference in the rate of microfiber shed. In a comparison of acrylic, polyester and a polyester-cotton blend, acrylic was the worst, shedding microfibers up to four times faster than the polyester-cotton blend.

Different types of washing machines may also release different amounts of fibers (and chemicals) from your clothes. Tests show top loading machines release about 530 percent more microfibers than front loading models.20

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