Release of side-chain fluorinated polymer-containing microplastic fibers from functional textiles during washing and first estimates of perfluoroalkyl acid emissions

By Steffen Schellenberger, Christina Jonsson, Pelle Mellin, Oscar A Levenstam, Ioannis Liagkouridis, Anton Ribbenstedt, Anne-Charlotte Hanning, Lara Schultes, Merle M. Plassmann, Caiza Persson, Ian T. Cousins, and Jonathan P. Benskin
Environ Sci Technol.
November 24, 2019
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b04165

The quantity and composition of fibers released from functional textiles during accelerated washing was investigated using the GyroWash method. Two fabrics (polyamide (PA) and polyester/cotton (PES/CO)), were selected and coated with perfluorohexane-based side-chain fluorinated polymers. Fibers released during washing ranged from ~10 to 500 μm with a similar size distribution for the two textile types. The PA-based fabric released considerably more fibers >20 μm in length compared to the PES/CO-based fabric (>1000/GyroWash for PA vs ~200/GyroWash fibers for PES/CO). After one GyroWash (2 to 15 domestic washes), fibers that contained approximately 240 and 1300 micrograms total fluorine per square meter (µg F/m2) were released from the PA and PES/CO fabrics, respectively. Current understanding of the fate of microplastic fibers suggests that a large fraction of these fibers reach the environment either in effluent wastewater or sewage sludge applied to land. In the environment, the fluorinated side chains will be slowly cleaved from the backbone of the side-chain fluorinated polymers coated on the fibers, and then transformed into short-chain perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs). On the European scale, emissions of up to ~0.7 t of fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH) per year were estimated for outdoor rain jackets treated with fluorotelomer-based side-chain fluorinated polymers.

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