Jeans Contribute to Water Pollution

Sept. 4, 2020

A new study suggests that jeans may contribute to the pollution of Canada's waters.


Researchers at the University of Toronto published a paper revealing the  detection of microfibers from blue jeans in aquatic environments. These microfibers range from lakes near Toronto across the Great Lakes, even all the way up to the Arctic Archipelago, reported CTV News.

According to co-author Sam Athey, previous studies have shown that plastic microfibers from synthetic clothing are polluting oceans and rivers. Further investigation is also necessary to understand the impacts of human-processed cotton microfibers on marine wildlife.

According to Athey, the investigation started when she and fellow doctoral students realized that indigo-dyed cotton fibres kept appearing in samples across various areas of environmental research.

The research determined that denim microfibers were found at depths greater than 1,500 meters, reported the study. This means that the particles may be able to travel long distances and accumulate in remote areas. The researchers also conducted a series of tests which found that a pair of used jeans can shed roughly 56,000 microfibers per wash.

The denim microfibers were also detected in effluent from wastewater treatment plants that discharge into Lake Ontario.

“Microfibers comprised 87–90% of the anthropogenic particles found in sediments from the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Laurentian Great Lakes, and shallow suburban lakes in southern Ontario,” reported the study. “21%-51% of all microfibers in sediments were anthropogenically modified cellulose (AC), of which 40–57% were indigo denim microfibers (12–23% of all microfibers analyzed). AC microfibers were also found in rainbow smelt from the Great Lakes.”

According to Athey, some studies do suggest that washing machine filters can help trap the microfibers, ultimately preventing them from entering and polluting aquatic environments.

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Cristina Tuser