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Changing Laundry Habits Could Eliminate Thousands of Tons of Ocean Pollution

Oceans
Changing Laundry Habits Could Eliminate Thousands of Tons of Ocean Pollution
An estimated 14,000 tons of microfibers sloughed off of soiled laundry is believed to be released into European oceans every year. ODD ANDERSEN / AFP via Getty Images

An estimated 14,000 tons of microfibers sloughed off of soiled laundry is believed to be released into European oceans every year, further contributing to microplastic pollution with a threat of becoming a "significant environmental issue."


That amounts to about two garbage trucks every day, new research suggests.

Many synthetic clothes, linens, and households textiles are made with petroleum-based products like plastic. When these are laundered in a washing machine, microscopic pieces fragment and break down before being flushed into wastewater systems that ultimately enter rivers, waterways and world oceans. A new forensic analysis published in PLOS ONE suggests that an average of 114 milligrams of microfibers — defined by a fine strand of synthetic fiber with a diameter fewer than ten micrometers — is released for every two pounds of fabric washed during a standard cycle.

However, researchers at Northumbria University say that microfiber contamination could be cut by nearly one-third if people choose to wash at cooler, faster cycles — an annual amount of over 4,000 tons.

"This is the first major study to examine real household wash loads and the reality of fiber release. We were surprised not only by the sheer quantity of fibers coming from these domestic wash loads but also to see that the composition of microfibers coming out of the washing machine does not match the composition of clothing going into the machine, due to the way fabrics are constructed," said John R. Dean, professor of analytical and environmental sciences at Northumbria University.

"Finding an ultimate solution to the pollution of marine ecosystems by microfibers released during laundering will likely require significant interventions in both textiles manufacturing processes and washing machine appliance design."

The team, led by university researchers joined with laundry detergent companies, turned to forensics expert Dr. Kelly Sheridan whose work has been employed on murder investigations analyzing small, microscopic fibers left behind at crime scenes. Scientists employed similar technologies and ensured that cross contamination from other sources didn't occur. Using a spectroscope and microscope, the team was able to examine the structure and composition of microfibers released from clothing to then weigh and characterize those released in each load.

Larger wash loads were shown to decrease the release of microfibers because of the ratio of water to the fabric. As such, people should fill — not overfill — their washing machines to around three-quarters. A 30 percent reduction of microfiber release was observed when launderers used a half-hour wash cycle at 86 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the standard 85-minute cycle with a water temperature at 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Newer clothes were shown to release more microfibers than older clothes, particularly during the first eight weeks. Additionally, fibers made from plant and animal fibers degraded more quickly than those from synthetic fabrics.

Consumer choice can have a "significant impact" on decreasing pollution caused by microfibers when making informed decisions in how they do laundry and the products that they purchase, the researchers conclude. Though such choices will not eliminate the issue, they may "achieve a meaningful short-term reduction" in harmful environmental pollution.

Eating too much black licorice can be toxic. Nat Aggiato / Pixabay

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Black licorice may look and taste like an innocent treat, but this candy has a dark side. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the culprit in the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts. How could this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds more like a twisted tale than a plausible fact.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

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