Microplastics in Oregon’s Oysters With Clothing Partly to Blame

Tiny threads of plastics are showing up in Pacific oysters and razor clams along the Oregon coast — and the yoga pants, fleece jackets, and sweat-wicking clothing are a source of this pollution. 

 (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Tiny threads of plastics are showing up in Pacific oysters and razor clams along the Oregon coast — and the yoga pants, fleece jackets, and sweat-wicking clothing are a source of this pollution. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Tiny threads of plastics are showing up in Pacific oysters and razor clams along the Oregon coast — and the yoga pants, fleece jackets, and sweat-wicking clothing that Pacific Northwesterners love to wear are a source of that pollution, according to a new Portland State University study.

Britta Baechler, a Ph.D. student in PSU’s Earth, Environment and Society program, and Elise Granek, a professor of environmental science and management, looked at what variables predict microplastic concentrations in Pacific oysters and razor clams — organisms that have commercial, recreational, and cultural importance in Oregon.

Watch this video about microplastics in the Pacific Ocean:

On average, the researchers found 11 microplastic pieces per oyster and nine per clam in the samples, and nearly all were microfibers, which can come from clothing made from synthetic or natural materials, as well as derelict fishing gear. Baechler said:

Microplastics were found in both Pacific oysters and razor clams collected from all 15 sample sites along the Oregon coast during spring and summer 2017. Microplastics were found in all but two of the roughly 300 organisms sampled.

Microplastics were found in both Pacific oysters and razor clams collected from all 15 sample sites along the Oregon coast during spring and summer 2017. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Microplastics were found in both Pacific oysters and razor clams collected from all 15 sample sites along the Oregon coast during spring and summer 2017. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The team also found that spring oysters contained more microplastics than the oysters sampled from the summer. Baechler said seasonal precipitation and the type of clothing typically worn in the spring compared to summer may have been factors. Granek said:

Granek said that because fishing gear can be a source of microfibers, fisheries and oyster growers are often blamed for the problem of microplastics in seafood — but there is no scientific consensus that this is the case, adding:

Baechler and Granek said more research still needs to be done to determine what effect the microplastics have on the organisms themselves and the humans who consume them. Studies have shown that microplastics can have negative physiological impacts, such as reproductive and growth impairments on oysters and clams, Baechler said:

Granek said engineers are coming up with filters that could attach to washing machines, but it’s still too early to tell how effective they are at preventing microfibers from discharging into the water and whether they’re too costly for the general public.

Provided by: Portland State University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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