One of the first to investigate microfiber pollution was Mark Browne. A Sydney-based ecologist has been “tediously examining” sediments along Earth’s shorelines and came across something unexpected. Tiny plastic strings, almost invisible to the naked eye, were everywhere, Guardian reported.
In 2011, Browne and his team published a study on the findings. It claimed that the dominant source of ocean plastics has been in fact microfibers - synthetic particles of textile that our clothes shed during washing. (Learn more about microfiber pollution here.)
Microfiber pollution from deep-sea to the Himalayas
Since Browne’s ground-breaking study, the body of research on microfibers snowballed. Scientists have been finding them everywhere, even in the deepest parts of the world. One British research team, for example, used traps with bait to capture creatures from the Mariana trench – the deepest trench of them all. When they looked inside the animals, they found a rainbow of microfibers, as explained in this National Geographic article.
And if they go deep-sea, why shouldn’t they go mountain high?
In 2016, a team of Vertical Nepal in collaboration with Adventure Scientists gathered freshwater samples in Langju Himal glacier, 6.5 kilometres high in the heart of the Himalayas. The Nepalese government recently opened up the sacred region to climbing and it’s believed that no person ever set foot on the glacier. The restrictions apparently didn’t apply to microfibers – researchers found one blue-coloured fibre in the foot of the mountain. How did it get there? Nobody knows for sure, but the wind could have brought it there.
Scientific research into microfiber pollution in one place
What else these pesky plastic bits now call their new home? For some extra clarity, we decided to put them on a map. It’s far from exhaustive and we’ll be adding new research as we go. (Click on the icon to learn more about the research).
They are all around us
It’s safe to assume that microfibers pervade the world's oceans, freshwaters, soil and every other corner of the planet, including your neighbourhood and home. They are inescapable and have also been shown to occupy:
Microfibers are also floating around in the air. In fact, one-third of all household dust is plastics (mostly consisting of microfibers) that we may inhale or eat once it descends on our food. This means we could consume about five grams of plastics each week - roughly an equivalent of a credit card, as one recent study calculated.
What health risks do these microfibers pose to you and me? Existing research doesn't paint a rosy picture. Inhalation of microfibers, solely, could lead to respiratory problems, inflammation, asthma, bronchitis and autoimmune diseases. Read our blog post to learn more about potential risks.
Let’s amplify science
But in any case, by going after these microfibers, researchers, ecologists, marine biologists and activists are doing immensely important work. They are helping us better understand the extent of microfiber pollution and its impact on the environment. Now it’s up to us to amplify their findings and pave ways to limit the pollution.