Home Press Microplastics in textiles may damage lung cells

Microplastics in textiles may damage lung cells

Microplastics in textiles may damage lung cells – extra risk with COVID-19, experts warn

MICROPLASTICS from textiles may inhibit the lung’s ability to repair damage caused by COVID-19, scientists will warn today.

Speaking on The Plastic Health Channel researchers will unveil new findings which revealed microfibres from textiles may be harming lung growth, development, and repair.

The research was carried out by scientists at Groningen University, The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Finding both nylon and polyester negatively affected the growth and repair of airway tissue, researchers said the microfibres could make it more difficult for those with COVID-19 to mend their lungs.

With humans exposed to microplastic fibres on a daily basis, scientists also warned of the potential health risks for those with developing lungs, such as children.

Professor Barbro Melgert, Principal Investigator of the Research, said: “A virus damages the lungs so you need repair, and if your lungs are filled with fibres that are inhibiting this repair then you are in for another problem in addition to COVID-19.”

Researchers exposed airway and air sac organoids (miniature lungs) to nylon and polyester microfibres across 14 days to determine their impact, using fibres small enough to be inhaled.

Researchers focused on polyester and nylon as they are the most abundant material in indoor settings, where humans spend the majority of their time.

The findings build upon research from Dr Fransien van Dijk and colleagues on the impact of microplastics on lungs, which was unveiled at the Plastic Health Summit in 2019.

Once breathed in, where do these fibres go?
A second study also set to be revealed on The Plastic Health Channel found airborne nanoplastics are travelling from the lungs of pregnant rats to their foetus.

The study saw pregnant rats exposed to nanoplastics via inhalation before scientists measured the amount of plastic in both the maternal and foetal tissues.

Nanoplastics were found in the pregnant rat’s lungs and heart, while they were also recorded in the foetus’ liver, lungs, heart, kidney and brain.

Dr Phoebe Stapleton of Rutgers University, who conducted the study, warned the situation could also be the case for human lungs.

She said: “We need to get a better handle on human exposure overall initially. We need to identify the chemicals in these nanoplastics.”

Both studies have raised serious concerns about the impact of microplastics entering the body, with experts on The Plastic Health Channel concerned about how they affect those suffering with COVID-19.

The Plastic Health Channel is organised and produced by the Amsterdam-based Plastic Soup Foundation, with a view to taking an in-depth look into research and studies on the impact of plastic on human health.

Fast fashion contributes to microfibre pollution
With the research raising concerns about textile microfibres damaging human lungs, Plastic Soup Foundation’s Ocean Clean Wash campaign assessed the fashion industry’s contribution to plastic microfibre pollution.

Plastic Soup Foundation worked with the Italian National Research Council to examine fibre release from four global fashion brands including Adidas and Zara. Both brands showed significant release of fibres from T-shirt products.

Response from companies
Speaking on The Plastic Health Channel, Laura Díaz Sánchez, Ocean Clean Wash campaigner, warned that microfibres from clothing are present in indoor settings as well as shedding during washing.

She said: “More than half of the clothes we wear are made of materials like polyester. The problem with clothes made from materials such as polyester, with fibres which are short and spikey, is they get released much easier and then they are up in the air in this dust.”

A new benchmark and label, developed independently from the fashion industry by CNR and Ocean Clean Wash, enables brands and organisations to see how much their clothing sheds microfibres.

The benchmark places the organisation on a scale using a traffic light system, with participating brands awarded a label to display on their clothing.

Funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the label will empower consumers to make informed decisions on the clothing they buy based on their environmental impact.

Laura Díaz Sánchez added: “This is a great opportunity for the fashion industry to be a part of the solution and not just the problem.”


Inditex and Adidas were invited to give an official response to our Youtube episode. You can read it here.


Note to editors:

The Plastic Health Channel is organized and produced by Plastic Soup Foundation, a non-profit organization against plastic pollution with the slogan: No plastic in our water or our bodies!

The goal of the YouTube channel is to increase public awareness of research on the impact of plastic on human health. To this end, a research and advocacy alliance has also been created: the Plastic Health Coalition. With this coalition, several national and international environmental and research organizations have joined forces to stimulate, strengthen, and disseminate scientific research on the health effects of plastic.

For more information:
Maria Westerbos
Founder & Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation
+31 (0) 6 51 090 691