GBF 2020 - Summer

STUDY UPDATE: MILLIONS OF MICROFIBERS CAPTURED IN PARRY SOUND By Dorsa Nouri Parto. Dorsa is an undergraduate student in the Rochman Lab at the University of Toronto. Dorsa also works with Lisa Erdle to research the effects of microfibers on fish and invertebrates in the Great Lakes. Together with the help of 100 volunteer households in Parry Sound, we are reducing microfiber emissions one washing machine at a time. Background: Microfibers and washing machines, what is the link? Clothing is made from a variety of textiles to suit all seasons and needs. Some are made of plastic polymers (such as polyester, span- dex, and nylon) and others have non-plastic material (like cotton, wool, rayon, and silk). The action of laundering clothes in washing machines causes thousands of tiny parts of the fabric to break away into the wash water in the form of small fibers. These fibers are termed microfibers, many of which are microplastics (small plastics less than 5mm in length). Research shows that laundering can release up to 700,000 microfibers per wash. Contrary to popular belief, even non- plastic microfibers can be harmful. Microfibers regardless of their base material, often contain harmful chemical additives and dyes. For example, cotton can have up to 1/3 chemicals by weight. Microfibers from washing machines make their way to septic systems or municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). While up to 98% of microfibers and microplas- tics can be captured in biosolids (commonly referred to as “sludge”) at the WWTP, studies show that a single WWTP can still release millions of microfibers per day, directly into freshwater ecosystems. In addition, biosolids are often land applied as a fertilizer. In these fertilizers, the microplastics and microfibers are released into the soil and eventually reach water through agricultural run-off. A recent study by Crossman et al. (2020) showed that biosolids, are a significant source of micro- plastics to soil— it is estimated that biosolids release between 410 and 1200 billion micro- plastics per year to terrestrial and freshwater environments in Ontario. Are microfibers harmful to organisms? There are many types of microplastics in Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes, and some studies suggest microfibers are the most common. Our research shows that microfibers have been found in marine and freshwater ecosystems and the Arctic. Other studies show that microfibers are the most common particle types in drinking water and the atmosphere. Researchers have also found that microfibers can be harmful to aquatic organisms. A study by Jemec et al. (2016) found that polyethylene terephthalate (PET, also known as polyester) can cause feeding behaviour changes in Daphnia magna , a freshwater zooplankton species. Microfibers also affect larger aquatic organisms. For example, Watts et al. (2015) found that marine crabs exposed to polypro- pylene (PP) microfibers show decreased body size. Multiple other studies have also suggest- ed negative effects on aquatic organisms, and the Rochman Lab at the University of Toronto (UofT) is investigating the effects of cotton and polyester microfibers on aquatic inverte- brates and species of fish. Microfibers are a relatively new field of study and not much is known about their health effects on humans, although research is underway. Since micro- fibers can be carried in the air, there is some concern that microfibers may negatively impact respiratory systems or cells. We know microfibers are abundant in the Great Lakes and can have negative effects. Finding ways to reduce microfiber emissions into the environment has become an important objective. What are the solutions? Since wastewater treatment plants cannot fully capture microfibers and microplastics, one way to reduce emissions is to capture them directly at a known source—washing machines. Our lab at UofT tested two types of innovation designed to capture microfibers in washing machines, including an in-wash device (Cora Ball), and external filters (Lint LUV-R and Filtrol160*). Our research in the laboratory shows that while all of these technologies re- duce the number of microfibers, the external filters are much more effective. The Filtrol160 can reduce microfiber release by 89%. Implementing a solution in Parry Sound The filters were very effective at capturing microfibers when tested in the laboratory, and the next step was to determine whether they were also effective in people’s homes at a community scale. We were lucky to partner up with Georgian Bay Forever to answer this question. With incredible help from volunteers, Georgian Bay Forever installed Filtrol160 filters in nearly 100 households in Parry Sound in summer 2019. The filters were officially “turned on” on August 1st, 2019 to begin diverting and capturing microfibers and other microplastics. To measure the microfiber capture rate of the filters, we examined the washing machine lint. Similar to lint traps in a dryer, washing machine filters have a lint trap that requires regular cleaning. Volunteers agreed to collect and save the lint captured in their filters so we could determine what was captured**. We weighed all the lint samples in our U of T lab. We then subsampled the lint and counted **Ziplock bag containing lint captured by the Filtrol 160, from one household's washing machine. *An outside filter installed for a washing machine to capture microfiber waste. Photo courtesy of Wexco. 6 | SUMMER 2020 | GBF.ORG DIVERT AND CAPTURE UPDATE