Homes under the Microscope: A citizen-led project to investigate airborne microplastics in the home

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By Dr Margarida Sardo 

Homes Under the Microscope (HOMEs) is a multidisciplinary project that brings scientists, participants and the textile industry together to develop a new way to measure microplastics in the home. It is a collaboration between the University of West England, the University of Leeds and the University of Edinburgh. The researchers involved have a wide range of backgrounds including environmental research, laboratory analysis of microplastics and social science researchers who work to evaluate research projects. Led by Dr Ben Williams (Air Quality Management Resource Centre, UWE Bristol), HOMEs has the involvement of two Science Communication Unit members, Dr Margarida Sardo and Sophie Laggan.

About two thirds of the clothes we wear contain plastic, most commonly polyester, nylon or acrylic. These materials are cheap and extremely versatile. Plastics can help make fabrics stretchy and more breathable as well as making them long-lasting and durable. Other textiles also contain plastics – sofas, curtains and carpets often have plastics added to make them more hard wearing. When we use the textiles in our home, friction causes tiny fibres to break off and be released into the air.  These small fragments are called microplastics. There have been very few studies about the amount of microplastics in the home, but what research has been done shows that every home sampled so far contains some airborne microplastics.

In this study researchers want to count how many airborne microplastic particles there are in a wide range of different houses. They also want to examine what they are made of, which will help us understand where they come from.

Citizen scientists will place passive samplers in their homes, using low-cost microscopes to see and take pictures of their samples. They will then use machine vision approaches to characterise their own samples by size/shape/colour etc., at home.

The research team will also undertake confirmatory analyses so citizens can see what types of plastic (if any) are present in their samples, allowing the team to build an understanding of airborne microplastic generation at home.

HOMEs is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Citizen Science Collaboration Grant (Reference BB/V012584/1).

You can read the press release here.

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