Sep 10 2017

Microfibers lurking in our food chain

Published by at 1:52 pm under General

Microfibers lurking in our food chain are a new public health concern.*
From garment to washing machine to the environment, microfibers are finding their way to your gut.

Every time we wash our clothes, microscopic fibers drain out into the sewage and storm drains that ultimately end up in the environment. While environmentalists and health experts have been focusing on microbeads, plastic bags and bottles, “…the most abundant form of material in the ocean has been overlooked…”, according to Dr. Mark Browne, an ecologist at the University of New South Wales. Dr. Browne’s study on microfibers came out in 2011, stating that microfibers constitute more than 85% of the plastic pollution found in our oceans. Now, six years after his landmark study, he fears we are no closer to a solution.1*

Microfibers, as the name implies, are microscopic fibers less than one millimeter in size, and can easily move through sewage treatment plants. The majority of these fibers seem to come from acrylic, nylon, and polyester fabrics. Unlike natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, synthetic fibers do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Scientists are starting to find that this is the new public concern. (1,2)*

A single polyester garment produces up to 1,900 fibers in a single washing and up to 100 microfibers per liter of wastewater. The worst garments to shed these microfibers are fleeces, which has resulted in the environmentally conscious company Patagonia, a huge producer of fleece garments, to conduct their own studies to see about reducing environmental pollution.4*

“…At Patagonia, we start with the knowledge that everything we produce comes at a cost to the environment. We then work continuously to lower the environmental and social costs of our products at every phase of their life cycle—from improving our manufacturing processes at every level of the supply chain to increasing our use of recycled and natural materials to encouraging reuse, repair and recycling among our customers…”4*

Microplastic pollution from any source, whether it be microfibers from laundry, microbeads from personal care products such as soaps and shampoos, or pre-production plastic resin pellets also referred to as “nurdles” or plastic particles from the breakdown of larger plastic objects are all a problem in our oceans. They mix with zooplankton, the lowest level of the food chain, and then are consumed by fish, which are consumed by other fish, which make their way to the food we eat.. “…Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain. Researchers have found high numbers of fibers inside fish and shellfish sold at markets…” There has been medical evidence which shows that these tiny particles of plastic transfer to the tissues of humans. Because of the size of the particles, they then cause inflammation and fibrosis,” Dr Browne said…” More research is needed to know the long term effects of synthetic fibers on humans. (1,2,3)*

While it is mainly known which fabrics create the most microfiber, it is not known which fabrics shed the least. This makes it difficult for the fashion industry to know which changes are needed to result in the least impact on the environment. According to textile designer in sustainable fashion Clara Vuletich, most brands are focusing on their “toxic impact during the production phase” of creating textiles and not after the garment is in the hands of the consumer. The most microfibers are shed when the consumer is washing their clothes. Higher quality garments shed less in the wash than low-quality synthetic products. This demonstrates the importance of manufacturers creating higher quality products and consumers being willing to invest in garments which are built to last. (Hand washing your clothes also reduces the shedding of microfibers.)(1,3)*

This problem can also be addressed with washing machine manufacturers. Investment in research is needed to explore how to filter microfibers before they get to the drain. “There is no clear way forward,” according to Tim Silverwood, an environmentalist and co-founder of Take 3, a not for profit established to raise aware improve education about ocean pollution. While researchers, environmentalists, clothing manufacturers and washing machine makers all explore the options, there is one thing for certain. We need to protect our guts and what goes into them. So incorporate this information into your daily living. The chain of events that lead to microfibers entering our bodies is a long, complex one, but unhealthy for us all the same. Keeping your microbiome and your body as clean as possible is the key and also the trick in this day and age. Just as Body Biotics™ Bio-Identical SBO Probiotics Consortia™ was created to help us return the healthy organisms we have lost through modern diets to our microbiome, think that way in your everyday choices. A healthy gut is a healthy immune system is a healthy body and mind.1*

Healthiest wishes,





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