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Washing clothes pollutes the land with around 175,000 tons of synthetic fibres each year — on top of the microplastic pollution that enters the seas — a study has found.

The findings from US-based researchers could help find effective solutions to stop the spread of synthetic fibres, while expanding our understanding of their impact.

Less than five millimetres in length, microfibers are produced across every step of the garment fabrication process — and released when clothes are machine washed.

Washing clothes pollutes the land with around 175,000 tons of synthetic fibres each year — on top of the microplastic pollution that enters the seas — a study has found

'Large-scale removal of microfibers from the environment is unlikely to be technically feasible or economically viable, so the focus needs to be on emission prevention,' said Jenna Gavigan of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

'Since wastewater treatment plants don't necessarily reduce emissions to the environment, our focus needs to be reducing emissions before they enter the wastewater stream.'

Synthetics fabrics — such as polyester and nylon — are the most commonly used fibres in the textile industry, accounting for over 60 per cent of the materials used to produce clothes worldwide.

Around 15 per cent of all plastic is used to make synthetic fibres, chiefly for clothing.

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While a lot of attention has been paid to plastic pollution in our oceans, less attention has been given to the amount being dumped on land, which is now higher.

Fibre-filled water is filtered at wastewater treatment plants after clothing is mechanically washed.

Most of the plastic pellets are captured along with so-called biosolid sludge — which is often then spread over cropland or buried in landfill.

In their study, the researchers combined data on the global production, consumption and release of plastics with the amount of microfibers released when washing clothes by hand and with a machine.

They also examined how microfibers are handled at wastewater treatment plants and the fate of wastewater sludge.

'Our calculations showed that approximately 5.6 million metric tons of synthetic microfibers were released from apparel washing between 1950 — the start of widespread use of synthetic fibres — and 2016,' said Ms Gavigan.

Half of this figure, she added, was released 'in the last 10 years.'

Nearly half the microfibers ended up on land, either on the surface — a total of 1.9 million tons — or in landfills, to the amount of 606,000 tons.

Around 176,000 tons of plastic fibres are being dumped on land versus 165,000 in bodies of water.

'This paper isn’t the complete picture as the data are predicted rather than measured and authors had to estimate make assumptions where raw data weren’t available,' commented expert Oliver Jones of RMIT.

'Even if their results are an overestimate, they are still a cause for concern and something we really need to address sooner rather than later.'

The full findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

URBAN FLOODING IS FLUSHING MICROPLASTICS INTO THE OCEANS FASTER THAN THOUGHT

Urban flooding is causing microplastics to be flushed into our oceans even faster than thought, according to scientists looking at pollution in rivers.

Waterways in Greater Manchester are now so heavily contaminated by microplastics that particles are found in every sample - including even the smallest streams.

This pollution is a major contributor to contamination in the oceans, researchers found as part of the first detailed catchment-wide study anywhere in the world.

This debris - including microbeads and microfibres - are toxic to ecosystems.

Scientists tested 40 sites around Manchester and found every waterway contained these small toxic particles.

Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic debris including microbeads, microfibres and plastic fragments.

It has long been known they enter river systems from multiple sources including industrial effluent, storm water drains and domestic wastewater.

However, although around 90 per cent of microplastic contamination in the oceans is thought to originate from land, not much is known about their movements.

Most rivers examined had around 517,000 plastic particles per square metre, according to researchers from the University of Manchester who carried out the detailed study.

Following a period of major flooding, the researchers re-sampled at all of the sites.

They found levels of contamination had fallen at the majority of them, and the flooding had removed about 70 per cent of the microplastics stored on the river beds.

This demonstrates that flood events can transfer large quantities of microplastics from urban river to the oceans.

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Coronavirus-laden particles swirl around inside a lift for up to half an hour AFTER an infected person coughs in it, study finds

Infected coronavirus particles from a cough can swirl around inside a lift for up to half an hour if the doors are kept closed, according to a new study.

Experts from the University of Amsterdam mimicked a series of coughs inside a hospital lift to determine how long they lasted under different conditions.

When the doors to the lift are kept shut an infected droplet can last for up to half an hour, but when always open the droplets are gone within four minutes.

Under normal lift operations with doors regularly opening and closing the infected droplets generated from a cough or loud talking can last for about ten minutes. 

The team say wearing a mask while in a lift mitigates some of the problem and proper ventilation at all times, not just when a lift is moving is also vital. 

Experts from the University of Amsterdam mimicked a series of coughs inside a hospital lift to determine how long they lasted under different conditions. Stock image

Aerosols, which contain small respiratory particles, are increasingly viewed as a potentially important way of transmitting the coronavirus, the team explained. 

To recreate the size and shape of the aerosols produced from a cough, lead researchers Daniel Bonn and colleagues created a spray nozzle.

They then sprayed the simulated droplets into an elevator and used a laser to illuminate the particles - so that they could be counted and tracked over time. 

The experiments were performed in elevator cabins during normal operation, which means that the door is open about 10-20 per cent of the time. 

‘We found out that during such normal operation, it takes 12 to 18 minutes before the number of aerosol particles decreases by a factor of one hundred,’ says Bonn. 

‘When the elevator doors are permanently open, this time reduces to 2 to 4 minutes.’

Corona-infected sputum - a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up - from hospitalised but mildly ill patients can carry between ten thousand and one billion copies of the virus per milliliter, the team explained. 

One billion copies corresponds to roughly one virus particle per aerosol droplet. 

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Loud speaking may produce up to a few hundred thousand droplets per minute, whereas a single cough can already produce a few million droplets. 

CORONAVIRUS SPREADS IN A LIFT EVEN AFTER SOMEONE LEAVES 

If someone infected with Covid-19 coughs in a lift the droplets can remain for up to half an hour after they leave.

Someone coming into the lift before the droplets evaporate could catch the virus - even after the cougher left.

The amount of time the droplets last varies depending on how long the doors are open.

  • Doors always shut: Droplets can last for up to half an hour
  • Normal operation with doors open some of the time: Droplets can last for up to ten minutes
  • Doors always open: Droplets can last for between two and four minutes. 

If you breath the air inside an elevator after an infected person has been speaking or coughing - you are taking in up to thousands of Covid-19 particles per minute. 

Previous studies have used laser light to track the spread of spit droplets as people speak and found they can spray through the air and potentially spread the virus.

As the speaker increases the volume of his speech the amount of spit sprayed, or droplets produced, also increases.  

In a very confined space, such as a lift, those droplets could easily infect other people that come in later - especially if they remain in the air.

This new study found that during normal operations infected spit can remain for up to ten minutes after the infected person coughed and left. 

The researchers recommend to leave elevator doors open for a longer period whenever possible, and to either avoid talking and coughing in elevators or wear a proper face mask. 

They also point out the importance of optimising the ventilation and increasing the mechanical ventilation capacity. 

Study co-author Dr Cees van Rijn said it turns out that ventilation inside elevators not moving automatically shuts off after one or two minutes.

'This can of course easily be prolonged by reprogramming the action control software,' van Rijn said.

'In most hospital elevators the ventilator is present in the ceiling and exhausts air from the cabin towards the elevator shaft.

Aerosols, which contain small respiratory particles, are increasingly viewed as a potentially important way of transmitting the coronavirus, the team explained 

'A possible measure is reversing the flow direction of the ventilator, creating a downflow of fresh air from the ceiling towards the floor of the elevator cabin.' 

Previous studies have shown that something as simple as talking while infected can lead to a spread of the virus when in a confined space.

Dr Julian Tang, an expert in respiratory conditions, from the University of Leicester, told BBC News that droplets produced by talking don't travel as far as they do from a sneeze or a cough - which can travel up to 22ft.

'But they can travel far enough to affect your friend sitting opposite you, or someone who's chatting to you,' Tang said.     

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health. 

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