TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Scientists have reported that the Great Lakes are awash in tiny bits of plastic and are raising new alarms about a little-noticed form of the debris turning up in sampling nets: synthetic fibers from garments, cleaning cloths and other consumer products.
They are known as "microfibers" — exceedingly fine filaments made of petroleum-based materials such as polyester and nylon that are woven together into fabrics.
"When we launder our clothes, some of the little microfibers will break off and go down the drain to the wastewater treatment facility and end up in our bodies of water," Sherri "Sam" Mason, a chemist with the State University of New York at Fredonia, said Friday.
The fibers are so minuscule that a pullover fleece can shed thousands of them with every washing.
Mason and colleagues have documented the existence of microplastic litter — some too small to see with the naked eye — in the Great Lakes.
Among the particles are abrasive beads used in facial and body washes and toothpastes. Some come from fragments of bottles, Styrofoam and other materials.
Illinois imposed a statewide ban on microbeads last year. Similar measures were proposed in California and New York.
The fibers seem to be getting stuck inside fish and fish eating birds.