GBF 2021 - Fall Newsletter

MICROFIBRE POLLUTION BROADER THAN PLASTICS CONTAMINATION By Lisa Erdle, Guest Author. Lisa is a PhD candidate and researcher at the Rochman Laboratory at the University of Toronto. Over the past two years, Georgian Bay Forever with the University of Toronto carried out one of the largest studies on microfiber solutions to date. Called “Divert and Capture”, the study placed washing machine filters in nearly 100 homes in Parry Sound, and over the course of a two-years, these filters captured billions of microfibres. The final, peer-reviewed results from this study are still wrapping up, although the frontline of our understanding has advanced, which is worth sharing. We now know that microfibre pollution is much broader than focusing on only “plastics”. It is well understood that microfibres, small anthropogenic fibers (<5mm), are found in habitats globally. The Great Lakes are no exception, and research shows that microfibre contamination is relatively high compared to other parts of the world. In the Great Lakes, high concentrations of microfibres litter surface water, near shore sediment, deep water sediment, and wildlife such as birds and fish. Recent research by Munno et al., (2021) shows that microfibres are prevalent in many Great Lakes species of fish, including yellow perch, brown bullhead, white sucker, and shiners. Also, this research found that fish contained up to 915 anthropogenic particles per fish, which were mostly fibers. However, not all fibres contaminating habitats and wildlife are synthetic (plastic). Microfibres can include a range of non-plastic materials, such as cotton, wool, and semi-synthetic cellulose (plant-based). When reported, non-plastic microfibres can be more common than their plastic counterparts. For example, microfibres in the Mediterranean deep sea were over 50% non-plastic fibres. One major distinction between these fibre types is degradation rate. Unlike plastic, research shows that non-plastic fibres can fully break down (mineralize) in nature—nonplastic fibres can break down in weeks to months in marine and freshwater ecosystems. However, non-plastic fibres may also cause negative effects. New research shows that non-plastic microfibres can have negative impacts on animals. For example, a recent study shows that cellulosic microfibres pass through the digestive tracts of freshwater crustaceans (Gammarus duebeni) more slowly than plastic microfibres (Mateos-Cárdenas et al., 2021). Also, lyocell (non-plastic) and polyester (plastic) microfibres both caused mortality and damage to digestive systems in brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) (Kim et al., 2021). So, there are growing concerns that there are negative effects from particles that are either plastic or non-plastic. Still, data on non-plastic microfibres is scarce. In a recent review, we analyzed hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that reported microfibres in the environment. We found that many studies underreport non-plastic fibers, often due to laboratory constraints (e.g., chemicals in processing steps that degrade cellulose) (Athey and Erdle, 2021). So, non-plastic microfibres could be even more prevalent than what current studies report. We have also observed that the line between “natural” and “synthetic” microfibres is somewhat blurry. The prevalence of nonplastic microfibres in the environment is of growing concern due to some studies that show negative effects. Also, since non-plastic microfibres can have a substantial proportion of synthetic chemicals (including plastic), this may also impact toxicity of microfibres. Textiles typically contain chemical treatments and dyes. Some treatments include known toxics, such as bisphenols, polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS), and formaldehyde. Recent research shows that chemicals can remain on microfibres and then slowly release into the environment over time; for example, PFAS applied to textiles can remain on microfibres, and when these microfibres are released into the environment, fibres can slowly leach chemicals over time. In addition to treatments and dyes, natural fibres can also be coated in plastic; machine washable wool, for example, is often coated in a thin layer of polyurethane to protect fibres from shrinking when we wash our clothes. An improved understanding of fibres, effects, and associated chemicals has helped inform solutions. Recently, some companies have proposed material redesign. Clothing brands, for example, have suggested making a swap from plastic textiles to natural materials in an effort to limit microfibre release. However, since microfibres are still shed from natural materials, changing the base material doesn’t completely solve the problem. Therefore, solutions that can reduce all microfibre emissions (and not just plastic) are likely most effective. We know that washing machine filters are effective at capturing microfibres. We have seen that filters are effective when tested in the lab, and new results from Divert and Capture show that washing machine filters can also be an effective tool to capture microfibres in people’s homes. Moving forward, solutions that will capture and reduce all microfibres close to the source should be prioritized since they can limit the release of plastic as well as non-plastic microfibres to the environment. References Athey, S.N., Erdle, L.M., 2021. Are We Underestimating Anthropogenic Microfiber Pollution? A Critical Review of Occurrence, Methods and Reporting. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 00, 1–16. Kim, L., Kim, S.A., Kim, T.H., Kim, J., An, Y.J., 2021. Synthetic and natural microfibersmicrofibres induce gut damage in the brine shrimp Artemia franciscana. Aquat. Toxicol. 232, 105748. j.aquatox.2021.105748 Mateos-Cárdenas, A., O’Halloran, J., van Pelt, F.N.A.M., Jansen, M.A.K., 2021. Beyond plastic microbeads – Shortterm feeding of cellulose and polyester microfibersmicrofibres to the freshwater amphipod Gammarus duebeni. Sci. Total Environ. 753. https:// Munno, K., Helm, P.A., Rochman, C., George, T., Jackson, D.A., 2021. Microplastic contamination in Great Lakes fish. GBF.ORG | FALL 2021 | 11