Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul today urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use the full extent of their authority to protect public health and the safety of our oceans from plastic microfiber pollution, primarily shed from synthetic clothing during washing.
Raoul joined a coalition of 16 states in sending a letter today to the EPA and the NOAA urging the agencies to evaluate their authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate microfiber pollution, and to direct funding and research into the environmental and health harms caused by microfibers and washing machine technology solutions.
“Global awareness of this pervasive pollutant is growing,” Raoul said. “The United States should lead the field on this issue and take concrete steps to address the problem of microfiber pollutants, which are harming our oceans and our health.”
Tiny plastic strands, called “microfibers,” shed from synthetic clothing during wash cycles are now a top source of microplastic pollution in the world’s water. It is estimated that the United States and Canada drop approximately 878 tons of microfiber pollution into the aquatic environment each year.
The pollution is so pervasive that researchers have identified these plastics in fish and shellfish being sold for human consumption across the globe and in the most remote oceans, including at the North and South Poles and in the Marianas Trench. As a result of the inescapable concentration of plastic microfibers and other microplastics in the environment, it is estimated that, globally, the average person may consume a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. The consumption and inhalation of microplastic and microfibers can be associated with asthma; hormonal cancers; reproductive problems, including infertility; metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.
In a 2020 report, the EPA identified plastic microfibers from synthetic clothing as a “major source of plastic pollution” containing “toxic chemicals.” The report noted that microfiber filtration systems installed in washing machines can prevent a substantial portion of microfibers from entering, and polluting, waterways and the environment. Research suggests these technologies, which are required in some other counties, can successfully filter out as much as 75% of microplastics in each wash cycle.
In 2023, the EPA issued a Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution, which recognized the problem of plastic microfiber and the need to fund more research into microfiber capture technologies, including washing machine microfiber filtration systems.
Raoul and the coalition are now calling on the agency to act on its own recommendations.
Joining Attorney General Raoul in today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.