CHENNAI : An Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) review identifies prominent and unnoticed sources of microplastics in residential buildings as a source of Microplastic Pollution. The study also identifies their transportation, transformation and toxicity effects in aquatic organisms and human beings.
The authors are of the opinion that this review is the first-of-its-kind to attempt to comprehensively explore the diverse activities and products within residential buildings, collectively identifying them as significant contributors to generation of microplastics.
The review suggests that among the various sources contributing to the spread of microplastics in the environment, municipal wastewater stands out as a major source. Everyday household activities like washing dishes, doing laundry, taking showers, and using toilets all contribute to the production of municipal wastewater.
For instance, dishwashing typically involves the use of plastic-based scouring pads, where the softer part of the sponge is composed of polyurethane (PU) and the attached mesh is made of polyethylene (PE). Over time, as the sponge wears down, the shedding of plastic material results in the creation of secondary microplastics.
This review was conducted by Ms. Angel Jessieleena, Ms. Kiruthika Eswari Velmaiel, Ms. Anju Anna John, and Prof. Indumathi M. Nambi from the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering Division, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras, and Ms. Sasikaladevi Rathinavelu also from the Department of Biotechnology, IIT Madras).
The review was published in the reputed journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-26918-1)
Elaborating on the need for such review, Prof. Indumathi M Nambi, Environmental and Water Resources Engineering Division, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras, said, “More detailed research needs to be done with real time environmental microplastics and microfibres to ascertain the myths and facts related to the risk associated with exposure to microplastics in humans.”
Prof. Indumathi M Nambi added, “The escalating issue of plastic pollution demands urgent attention and action. Current estimates suggest that between 4.88 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic find their way into the ocean each year. Alarmingly, projections indicate that by 2050, the cumulative weight of plastics in our oceans could surpass the total biomass of fish.”
The Researchers add that it was important to note that these estimates do not even account for ubiquitous synthetic fibres such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyamide (PA) and polyacrylate.
Laundry washing releases a significant quantity of microfibers into wastewater, while personal care products like shower gels, face cleansers, and toothpaste contain deliberate microplastic additives known as microbeads.
Additionally, items such as face masks and synthetic indoor fabrics, including carpets, contribute to environmental and indoor pollution, posing potential harm to both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as human and pet health.
The review suggests that source reduction was a vital consideration to combat microplastic pollution. It also suggests that personal care products should be replaced with biodegradable materials, and use of plastic-based products such as scouring pads needs to be reduced. Also, laundry machines should also have highly efficient filters.