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Hudson dumps 300 m fibres into Atlantic Ocean in a day
Sep '17
The Hudson River dumps 300 million clothing fibres into the Atlantic Ocean each day, according to a study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Many of the fibres come from aging clothes, rinsed out with the laundry and into the environment. Approximately half of the fibres were plastic, while the remainder were spun from natural materials like cotton or wool.

Invisible to the naked eye, these fibers can cause health problems for animals and humans. An average-sized, above-ground swimming pool filled with this water would contain about 10,800 microfibres.

“The ocean is the endgame for plastics,” said marine biologist Abigail Barrows, who is a principal investigator with Adventure Scientists.

Barrows, who has been studying microfibre pollution in oceans for more than five years, wanted to learn more about what’s happening upstream in freshwater. So last year, Barrows and a team of scientists and volunteers measured microfibre pollution across all 13,300 miles of the Hudson river.

They hiked, waded, sailed and even whitewater rafted to urban and rural locations to collect 142 water samples using Barrows’ “grab method” analysis. The grab method involves filling a submerged container of water, then filtering the samples through an extremely fine screen, before counting and identifying the material of each microfibre.

The team found about one microfibre per liter of water, which seems small until you consider the sheer volume of the Hudson River. An average-sized, above-ground swimming pool filled with this water would contain about 10,800 microfibres, and the entire Hudson River dumps 300 million human-made fibres into the Atlantic Ocean each day.

The grab method is Barrows’ “real contribution to the field,” said Tim Hoellein, an aquatic ecologist at Loyola University who was not involved in the study. In the past, microfibre researchers typically used a “Neuston net” to collect samples. The funnel-like net, originally designed to study plankton, collects microfibres and other materials in the water while being towed behind a boat. But, unlike the grab method, tiny fibres can sieve through the net. That is why Hoellein believes the grab method gives a more accurate count of microfibre pollution.

“It reveals that most likely there is more material than we previously thought,” Hoellein said.

Rachael Miller, director of the Rozalia Project which is working to curb microfibre in laundry greywater, expected to see a larger concentration of microfibres in locations near wastewater treatment facilities or industrial sites. But instead the pollution was more uniform throughout the river.

“There was no pattern across the whole Hudson River — from Lake Tear of the Clouds, an alpine remote beauty, down to the heaving, thriving Manhattan,” said Miller, who is a co-author on the study. “It was a real surprise.”

If wastewater treatment facilities are not the major culprit, people may want to look their everyday clothes. Fabrics cast off tiny threads at every stage of their life. Even crime scene investigators count on perpetrators leaving behind bits of clothing. These clothes can shed more fibres into the air than laundering, according to Steve Carr, supervising scientist at the Los Angeles County Sanitation District.

“We are just not conscious of it,” Carr said. “It’s invisible, but everywhere you go and everywhere I go, we are leaving a trail of fibers in our wake.”

After a microfibre study of the Seine River in 2014, Bruno Tassin, an urban hydrologist at University of Paris-Est, faced the same dilemma: tonnes of pollution without definitive point source. So he conducted a follow-up in Paris in 2016 to determine if microfibres clouded the atmosphere. Tassin found that three to ten tonnes of microfibres rain out of the air onto the 1,098-square-mile region surrounding Paris, each year. (SV)

Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India

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