Microfibers from blue jeans are making an appearance in some remote regions of the Arctic, according to a study from the American Chemical Society. Denim jeans are more popular than ever, and most people do not realize they contribute to the growing issue of water pollution.
“At any moment, approximately half of the world’s population is wearing blue jeans and other denim garments,” wrote the researchers. “We examine the footprint of our modern blue jean society by investigating the environmental distribution, pathways, and sources of indigo denim microfibers shed by denim clothing.”
According to the study findings, microfibers make up about 90 percent of the man-made particles in marine sediments collected from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Laurentian Great Lakes, and suburban lakes in southern Ontario.
Previous research has shown that washing denim and other fabrics releases microfibers into wastewater. While most of these particles are removed by treatment plants, some microfibers still reach the environment through wastewater discharge, or effluent.
A team of experts, including Dr. Miriam Diamond and Samantha Athey of the University of Toronto, set out to investigate whether blue jeans are a major source of anthropogenic cellulose microfibers in the marine environment.
The researchers used advanced chemical analysis and imaging techniques to identify and count indigo denim microfibers in various marine sediment samples collected in Canada.
The study revealed that these particular particles made up 23 percent of the microfibers in sediments from the Great Lakes and 11 percent of those from shallow suburban lakes near Toronto.
Furthermore, remnants of denim jeans accounted for 20 percent of microfibers that were detected in sediments from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
The team estimates that the wastewater treatment plants surveyed in the study discharge about one billion indigo denim microfibers per day.
One of the most significant findings is that a single pair of used jeans could release about 50,000 microfibers per wash cycle.
While the effects on marine life are unknown at this point, consumers could reduce denim microfiber pollution by washing their jeans less frequently, according to the experts.
“We conclude that blue jeans, the world’s single most popular garment, are an indicator of the widespread burden of anthropogenic pollution by adding significantly to the environmental accumulation of microfibers from temperate to Arctic regions,” wrote the researchers.
The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer