Session Chair: Nicholas Mallos, Ocean Conservancy

This session will focus on microfibers in marine environments with a focus on the latest science, research priorities, and current and potential solutions to mitigate the problem.

Marine debris from microfibers is increasingly gaining the attention of the news media, environmental NGOs and scientists. Microfibers have been reported in rain and aquatic habitats (both freshwater and marine) across the globe. In some instances, they are the most common type of marine debris found in habitats and inside animals including fish and shellfish purchased from public fish markets. Science confirms that laundering textiles is one important source of fiber emissions, demonstrating that microfibers are released from clothing during washing and enter wastewater via washing machine effluent. Despite increased attention on microfibers, our understanding of the emissions, fate and toxicity of microfibers is relatively limited. However, our current understanding suffices to warrant action. With the appropriate multi-stakeholder approach, we can collaborate to not just talk about microfiber contamination, but actually begin to mitigate it. This panel will bring leaders from academia, conservation, and the textile and/or apparel industries to lay out the background of the issue, define future research priorities, and discuss solutions to this emerging debris threats to ocean health.




Science to Inform Solutions – Source, effects and potential solutions for microfibers

presenting: Chelsea Rochman (University of Toronto, Canada); authors: Chelsea Rochman (University of Toronto, Canada), Miriam Diamond, Hayley McIlwraith, Jack Lin

Microfibers have become one of the most common types of microplastic pollution. They are found in diverse habitats and animals, including in Arctic ice, deep sea animals and our seafood. Scientists are now working hard to better understand sources, sinks and effects. We know that washing our clothing is one source, but is it the only source? We know that textiles include an array of chemicals that are added intentionally, such as dyes, pigments, antimicrobials, flame retardants and water repellents, and that our clothing accumulates chemicals from ambient air and dust. But are microfibers a source of chemicals to aquatic habitats and if so which chemicals and do they transfer to wildlife? We know that microplastics can cause effects in animals, but what are the specific effects from microfibers and are they unique to other plastic types? Increasing our understanding will increase our ability to allow science to inform policy. For example, understanding sources informs managers where to mitigate upstream and understanding their effects can prompt innovation of textiles that are safer and have a reduced shed rate. In this talk, we will discuss the work we have done in our own labs measuring microfibers in the environment, testing how microfibers may be a source of chemicals to aquatic habitats and investigating the benefits of some proposed solutions. We will also discuss work we are doing as a collaborative team of industry, NGOs and academics. Overall, we aim to put this work in context with that of others and talk about future steps for how we can collaboratively advance our understanding and solutions that are guided by the best available information.


Wastewater treatment plants as a pathway for microplastics: A case study from Mersin, TURKEY

presenting: Ceyhun AKARSU (Mersin University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Environmental Engineering, Turkey); authors: Ahmet Erkan Kideys (Middle East Technical University, Turkey), Halil KUMBUR (1Mersin University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Environmental Engineering), Kerem GÖKDAĞ (Middle East Technical University, 2Institute of Marine Sciences), Ahmet Erkan Kideys (Middle East Technical University, Institute of Marine Sciences)

Copious quantities of microplastics enter the sewage system on a daily basis through household wastewater, eluding the filtration systems at municipal wastewater treatment plants to become an important source of microplastic contamination in coastal waters. Effluent discharges from two secondary-level treatment plants and one tertiary -level treatment plant in Mersin, Turkey were studied during one year at monthly intervals in 2016 and 2017. These 3 plants combined discharge a water volume of about 230.000 m3/day into the northeastern Mediterranean. Based on our initial results, averaging all facilities, 2.6 microplastic fragments were found per liter of effluent amounting to around 600 000 particles per day. The most common type of microplastics were found to be fibers of which the main source could be wastewater of washing machines. The findings to date indicate that the Mediterranean is at great risk from microplastic pollution some of which could be originating from wastewater treatment plants. Recent studies of microplastics found in coastal sediments and the digestive systems of marine fish species from the same region in the Mediterranean support this claim.

Acknowledgement: This research was supported through Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) grants; CAYDAG-114Y244 (“Estimating the quantity and composition of microplastics in the Mediterranean coast of Turkey; the potential for bioaccumulation in seafood”) and CAYDAG-115Y627 (“Impacts of Microplastic Particles and Bisphenol A as a Chemical Additive in Zooplankton Species of Mersin Bay”)


Microfibers, a prominent contaminant in fish from the Great Lakes

presenting: Lisa Erdle (University of Toronto, Canada); authors: Lisa Erdle (University of Toronto, Canada), Miriam L. Diamond (University of Toronto), Paul A. Helm (Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change), David G. Poirier (Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change), Amila O. De Silva (Environment and Climate Change Canada), Liisa M. Jantunen (Environment and Climate Change Canada), Daryl J. McGoldrick (Environment and Climate Change Canada), Michael T. Arts (Ryerson University), Chelsea M. Rochman (University of Toronto)

Microfibers make up a large component of microplastic debris found in the environment – especially around urban areas – and are likely found in combination with emerging contaminants (e.g. halogenated and non-halogenated flame retardants (FRs), and perfluoroalkylated substances (PFASs, including PFOS)). Some of these chemicals are added intentionally during synthetic textile manufacturing (e.g., PFAS) and others accumulate on textiles from indoor air and dust (e.g., FRs). Microfibers and associated chemicals are released into water via laundering. Once microfibers enter the aquatic environment, they may accumulate other chemical contaminants from ambient water. While these contaminants are known to enter urban waters from sources such as runoff, effluent and atmospheric deposition, and contaminate aquatic and terrestrial biota including invertebrates, fish and other wildlife, many questions remain regarding the sources, fate and biological impacts of microfibers and associated chemicals. To measure the extent that microplastics (including microfibers), FRs and PFASs contaminate fish in the Great Lakes, and to examine the relationship between microfibers and these contaminants, we quantified microplastics, FRs and PFASs in two trophic levels of fish. Fish were sampled from Lakes Huron and Ontario, nearby and at a distance from waste water treatment plant (WWTP) outfalls. We will quantify microfibers in fish and examine their correlation with FRs and PFASs. These results will be presented here as some of the initial work done in a collaborative effort between agencies to investigate sources, sinks and effects of microfibers in the Great Lakes.


A human-scale solution to Microfiber Pollution: the Cora Ball – conception, research, design and impact

presenting: Rachael Miller (Rozalia Project, United States); authors: Rachael Miller (Rozalia Project, United States)

Microfibers are being found in more than just fish, but in honey, beer, salt and our drinking water – worldwide. Considering the fact that everyone who wears and washes clothes is part of the microfiber problem, the magnitude of this microplastic and anthropogenic marine debris is staggering. Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, a nonprofit, learned abut this problem 3 years ago and realized they had to act. For Rozalia Project acting meant developing a consumer-based solution to microfiber pollution – the Cora Ball. This presentation will take attendees through the process Rozalia Project took from learning about the problem to developing their solution (through many iterations) and bringing it to market. This includes sharing their experiences sampling the Hudson River from source to mouth to investigate microfiber in the wild during their design phase (results published in Marine Pollution Bulletin); running a successful Kickstarter campaign (especially successful for a product for the environment); going to Svalbard, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle, to test the Cora Ball’s effectiveness when used by a whole community and their various failures and successes while developing this solution.


Confronting microfiber pollution: forging a road map to action

presenting: Nicholas Mallos (Ocean Conservancy, United States); authors: Nicholas Mallos (Ocean Conservancy, United States), George Leonard (Ocean Conservancy)

Microfibers have become one of the most common forms of plastic debris found in aquatic habitats. To address this emerging threat, Ocean Conservancy and its Trash Free Seas Alliance, in partnership with the University of California’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, convened a diverse set of stakeholders to to develop, distribute and promote a consensus research agenda that addresses key research questions to relevant scientists, conservation organizations and industries to inform private sector leadership and action. Summit participants included representatives from academia, NGOs and industry members across supply chains (e.g., apparel, home appliance, etc.). The major output from the summit included an action-oriented road map that reflects cross-sector needs, priorities and opportunities to help guide future research and organize efforts to reduce microfiber pollution and impacts. This convening will help shape the trajectory of a new collaborative effort to identify solutions, research efficacy, and then scale-up actions that will improve environmental and aquatic health.