The first measures of microplastics in Georgian Bay have been taken.

Microplastics are tiny fibres that come off clothing made of synthetic materials like polyester and nylon in the washing machine.

Those fibres end up in the watershed and eventually into animals, including humans.

Georgian Bay Forever has teamed up with the University of Toronto and Environment Canada for a study on the issue which includes how to keep microfibres from ever ending up in the watershed in the first place.

Lisa Erdle, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, was in Parry Sound on Monday taking samples at the wastewater treatment plant.

This was to establish baseline numbers. The next step is where Parry Sound residents come in.  The study needs 100 volunteers to have filters installed on their washing machines.

“What we expect to see is after putting in these filters that there might be a reduction in the number of microplastics, because we know that a load of laundry can release hundreds to hundreds of thousands of microfibres in a single wash and by having these filters we’ll capture these microfibres before they get to the wastewater treatment plant,” said Erdle.

The problem with microfibres, Erdle explained, is that because they’re so numerous they can get into the food chain at multiple levels.  They can carry chemicals and dyes which can be harmful to aquatic life.

Erdle says for her PhD she’s studying fish in Lake Ontario and Lake Huron and is finding microfibres in nearly every fish she’s sampled. Although they can come off of natural materials like wool and cotton, those aren’t nearly the issue that the synthetic fibres are, because they break down whereas the plastic ones don’t.

Georgian Bay Forever’s Communications Director Heather Sargeant says the study is expected to take roughly two years. Right now they need about 70 more volunteers to sign up.  A professional plumber will install the filter in your home at no cost to you.

Georgian Bay Forever is asking residents to volunteer their washing machines to have this filter installed.

To volunteer for the study you have to be on Parry Sound’s town water, you have to have space for the filter (which is about the size of a large vertical paper towel dispenser), fill out a survey about your laundry habits, and empty the filter every two to three weeks. The stuff the filter catches has to be put into a provided bag which will then be picked up to be measured.

“It’s a really great opportunity to show that these filters can really work at the scale of a whole community. We’ve tested these in the lab at the University of Toronto and we show that they work. A filter can remove upwards of 90 per cent of all the microfibres in a load of laundry and by putting these in people’s homes we can make a real difference for Georgian Bay,” observed Erdle.

“This is a fantastic opportunity that Parry Sound has and these volunteers for really making a difference. When this study is completed we are going to share the results, and we expect it to be a solution that other municipalities and other people can take up in terms of diverting their plastics from the water.

“Inevitably the plastics in the water are going up the food chain and it’s ending up on our dinner plates and in our water as well,” added Sargeant. Anyone interested in volunteering for the study can email info@gbf.org.