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PMicrofiber pollution, a laundry room at a time

The fight to keep tiny pollutants from reaching the dinner plate might start in the laundry room.

Innovators are coming up with tools to keep tiny pieces of thread that are discharged with washing machine effluent from reaching marine life. Such “microfibers” are too small to be caught in conventional filters, so they eventually pass through sewage plants, wash out to waterways, and can be eaten or absorbed by marine animals, some later served up as seafood.

So far there are at least four products, with names such as Guppyfriend and Cora Ball, aimed at curbing microfibers.

The developers are taking the war on pollution to a microscopic level after the fight against microbeads – tiny plastic beads found in some beauty products that were banned nationally in 2015.

“Blaming industry or government won’t solve the problems,” said Alexander Nolte, co-founder of Guppyfriend, a polyamide washing bag designed to prevent tiny threads from escaping. “Buy less and better; wash less and better.”

The issue has become an increasing focus of environmental scientists. trying to determine exactly how much microfiber pollution exists in the environment.

A 2016 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that more than a gram of microfibers is released every time synthetic jackets are washed and that as much as 40 percent of those microfibers eventually enter waterways.

While there’s no question microfibers are escaping into the environment, it’s unclear how harmful they are, said Chelsea Rochman, an ecology professor at the University of Toronto who plans a study at the end of the year.

One of the questions, she said, is whether the problem is the fibers themselves or dyes in them, and whether natural microfibers such as wool and cotton are less harmful than plastic microfibers.

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