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Hudson River Dumps 300 Million Microfibers Into Atlantic Ocean Daily

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Spiros Vathis / Flickr

A new study highlights how our laundry contributes to major oceanic pollution.

The Hudson River could be dumping about 300 million clothing fibers into the Atlantic Ocean per day, according to new research published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.


For the study, researchers collected 142 water samples throughout the length of the Hudson River and found about one microfiber per liter. That's a lot when you consider that this endless stream of human-made fibers ultimately ends up in our oceans.

"The ocean is the endgame for plastics," marine biologist Abigail Barrows, a principal investigator with Adventure Scientists, told PBS Newshour.

About half the samples were plastic microfibers and the other half were non-plastic microfibers such as cotton or wool.

Microfibers get flushed into our waterways when we wash our clothing or other textiles. Notably, the researchers did not find more fibers near wastewater treatment plants or high-population areas, suggesting that microfiber pollution is pervasive 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," Rachael Miller, a co-author on the study, told PBS. "It was a real surprise."

You might not be able to see microfibers with the naked eye but the material is pervasive in our environment and can make its way up the food chain, according to The Story of Stuff:

"Microfibers are tiny plastic threads shed from synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. These fabrics currently make up 60 percent of all clothing worldwide and their use as the dominant textile materials [is] dramatically on the rise. When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing machine effluent. Less than 1 mm in size, they ultimately make their way through wastewater plants and into marine environments where they have been found to enter the food chain. Microfibers make up 85 percent of human made debris on shorelines around the world according to a 2011 study."

Barrows told PBS she wears wool or other natural materials to reduce her plastic footprint, but even natural materials can be harmful to the environment.

"Toxins and dyes are added into that thread. The science is still out. We don't know how natural fibers are interacting with humans or animals," she said.

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