Clothes washing likely behind ‘pervasive’ plastic pollution in the Arctic, researchers say

By Damian Carrington, National Observer, January 23, 2021

The Arctic is “pervasively” polluted by microplastic fibres that most likely come from the washing of synthetic clothes by people in Europe and North America, research has found.

The most comprehensive study to date found the microplastics in 96 of 97 sea water samples taken from across the polar region. More than 92 per cent of the microplastics were fibres, and 73 per cent of these were made of polyester and were the same width and colours as those used in clothes. Most of the samples were taken from three to eight metres below the surface, where much marine life feeds.

Other recent analysis estimated that 3,500tn plastic microfibres from clothes washing in the U.S. and Canada ended up in the sea each year, while modelling suggested plastic dumped in the seas around the U.K. was carried to the Arctic within two years.


“The Arctic is, yet again, at the receiving end of pollutants from the south,” he said. Toxic chemical pollutants including mercury and PCBs are well known at the pole. “It’s certainly cause for concern, when we realize that the Inuit people rely very heavily on aquatic foods.”

The three- to eight-metre layer of sea water is “a biologically important area where we find phytoplankton, zooplankton, small fish, big fish, seabirds and marine mammals, foraging looking for food,” said Ross. Large animals such as turtles, albatross, seals and whales are known to be killed by plastic and he said there was no reason to think it was different for the smaller ones.

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