If a piece of fuzz from your fleece has ever made its way onto your food and into your mouth, you've probably spit it out because you think eating microfibers is pretty gross. But there's a chance that that same fuzz is already in what you're eating anyway.
Chelsea Rochman, a biologist and ecologist at the University of Toronto, St. George, told NPR, "I have no doubt that every time I eat oysters and mussels I eat at least one microfiber." Rochman studies microplastics in marine habitats and says microfibers are one of the most common plastic debris items in environmental samples and animals.
Previous studies have found microfibers in table salt in China, and a 2011 study found that microfibers made up 85 percent of human debris on shorelines across the globe.
Last September, Patagonia and the University of California, Santa Barbara, conducted a study that found that a fleece jacket can shed microfibers up to 2 grams (think: the weight of a pen cap, or a paper clip).
So, how does the microfiber end up back in the environment after it gets washed? While in the washer, the microfibers are carried down the drain and end up in wastewater treatment plants. Many fibers can't be filtered out and get released into the environment.
Right now there's no science as to how these microfibers affect the human body. What researchers do know is that ingesting microfibers leads to increased mortality in water fleas and overall makes crabs eat less.
Regardless of the microfibers, Rochman continues to eat seafood. "I see dust in the air and we inhale that. The question is, at what point does it become a problem?" she told NPR.
Gregg Treinish, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, has short-term solutions to minimize pollution in the first place. He told NPR that by rigging his washing machine with a filter, he's been able to catch microfibers before they go down the drain and into the waterways.
A simpler solution that Treinish hopes will catch on is for people to wash their fleece less often. "Obviously I'll wash my jacket if a kid throws up on it, but not if I just wore it once," he said.