First, it was microbeads, the abrasive beads used in personal care products. Now, say scientists, the Great Lakes are teeming with microfibers, super-fine filaments made of petroleum-based materials like nylon and polyester woven into garments, cleaning cloths and other products, according to an article at Sci-Tech Today. When a fleece pullover makes its way through the wash, thousands of the synthetic fibers break free, go down the drain and eventually end up in bodies of water.
It gets worse. Rather than passing through, the microfibers hang up in the gastrointestinal tracts of area fish and birds in ways other microplastics don't. They may also be in drinking water piped from the Lakes, says Sherri Mason, a chemist with the State University of New York at Fredonia who has been documenting plastic litter in the Great Lakes for several years. Last fall, according to the article, two dozen varieties of German beer were found to contain microplastics.