r/science Oct 06 '22

Widely used sewer pipe repair technology creates and emits nanoplastics into the air Environment

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-022-01219-9
2.4k Upvotes

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642

u/303elliott Oct 07 '22

I've never thought about that, pretty interesting stuff. If I had to guess, I would say the overall pollution of pipe repair with this method is still less than the pollution of dredging up an entire city block to replace the sewer pipes, not to mention the added cost of the latter. However, more data is almost never a bad thing, and I'm glad someone is doing this research.

96

u/kazyllis Oct 07 '22

Ya, this seems like a pretty good solution and I’m wondering why they don’t just capture the emissions with a device of some sort.

80

u/303elliott Oct 07 '22 edited Oct 07 '22

My guess would be prohibitive costs. Nano plastics are tiiiinnnnyyyy, as such they are incredibly difficult to capture. Additionally, there's probably very little incentive to even try.

27

u/SandDuner509 Oct 07 '22

Air filter might do the trick

45

u/SpecialOops Oct 07 '22

Water capture.

19

u/SmarkieMark Oct 07 '22

6

u/cerebralinfarction Oct 07 '22

Bro come help me hit this sewer bong to save mother nature

2

u/FriarNurgle Oct 07 '22

Bongs will save the world.

1

u/adventurecrime Oct 07 '22

I’m doing my part!

23

u/SeeMarkFly Oct 07 '22

While trying to filter tiny particles, you also catch all the bigger particles, clogging your filter up really fast.

7

u/Bones_and_Tomes Oct 07 '22

Water filtration might help. Bubbler?

20

u/SeeMarkFly Oct 07 '22

A water curtain wouldn't clog up but then what? Now you have to store the contaminated water or filter particles out of the water in real-time (same problem as before but now wet).

Flushing it down the drain was the original problem.

6

u/EmperorGeek Oct 07 '22

Saw a technique where they add something like a flocking agent to the water to cause clumping of micro plastics into manageable blobs. Don’t remember if the article discussed the super-fine particles.

1

u/SeeMarkFly Oct 07 '22

I've seen that used in filtering deep-fat fryers. A binding agent is added to the oil that clumps the small particles together. A larger mesh filter can then be used to get most of the small particle contamination.

And because the process we are talking about is NOT continuous but a short process, that would be a good solution.

Would you like some fries with that?

1

u/EmperorGeek Oct 07 '22

Mmmm … Mom says I ate enough plastic fries as a kid!

2

u/Bones_and_Tomes Oct 07 '22

Sure, but keeping them in the sewer is preferable to floating about in the air. Microplastics are probably better dealt with at water processing plants.

2

u/beanmosheen Oct 07 '22

They don't. Treatment plants can't remove micro plastics.

1

u/EmperorGeek Oct 07 '22

From the sewer they get into the ocean don’t they? (Or are at least released to the local aquifer at some point?)

1

u/Bones_and_Tomes Oct 07 '22

They should run through a water treatment plant first.

→ More replies

1

u/FishinWabigoon Oct 07 '22

But then we need nano filters that run the entire city's waste through them to capture these sewer repair nanoplastics. The filters would clog.

1

u/Bones_and_Tomes Oct 07 '22

So how do we fix this problem. Obviously in an ideal world the microplastics wouldnt get into the water in the first place, so are they more destructive floating about in the air or in water?

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1

u/Dry-Conference4530 Oct 07 '22

Could use a chemical to cause the particles to bind together in a holding tank.

1

u/knselektor Oct 07 '22

congeal the particles with a gel, like clearing a consomme

1

u/pipnina Oct 07 '22

Can either boil the water off or centrifuge it perhaps?

2

u/cheezemeister_x Oct 07 '22

Multilayer filters solve this problem.

1

u/SeeMarkFly Oct 07 '22

Yea, that would work.

I have always worked on large continuous air flow systems and multiple filters are even more expensive than single filters for my applications. Hence I shy away from them.

3

u/drdookie Oct 07 '22

*nanoplastics

1

u/303elliott Oct 07 '22

Thanks, corrected

2

u/Lizasmuffmuncher Oct 07 '22

If micro-plastics are that small just imagine these nano-plastics!

3

u/303elliott Oct 07 '22

If you think that's bad, wait until you hear about Planck plastics!

4

u/jpr64 Oct 07 '22

I’m wondering why they don’t just capture the emissions with a device of some sort.

I do drain replacements in an earthquake damaged city in New Zealand. Show me the device and we’ll use it.

1

u/Skud_NZ Oct 07 '22

Do you know what the common repair technique is they're talking about? I'm guessing it involves heat and is done while water is still in the pipe.

4

u/jpr64 Oct 07 '22

Cast in place lining. There’s a few methodologies about using plastics, fibreglass etc. Typically you would put in a bung upstream to stop water/waste flowing down in the process.

2

u/Skud_NZ Oct 07 '22

Thanks. I make polyethylene pipe as a job but have no idea about installation/repair really

6

u/ThePolishSpy Oct 07 '22

Externalities are freeeeee

1

u/jffrybt Oct 07 '22

That’s likely hopefully the should-be-takeaway from this study.

1

u/wren337 Oct 07 '22

It's easier not to

56

u/No-Comparison8472 Oct 07 '22

Don't under estimate nanoplastic pollution severity though, it is really bad. But you are right that total emissions should be accounted for

41

u/303elliott Oct 07 '22

I didn't mean to come across as underestimating the severity of that issue, however I don't see this as being anywhere near a major contributor. If we are going to start taking micro plastic pollution seriously, there are hundreds of worse offenders to tackle before we reach this industry

5

u/round-earth-theory Oct 07 '22

Everyone's favorite fabric is a major source of these fibers.

3

u/sharkamino Oct 07 '22

Cotton. The fabric of our lives?

2

u/DontTreadOnBigfoot Oct 07 '22

The touch... The feel....

1

u/Illustrious_Crab1060 Oct 08 '22

Good for temperature regulation and not freezing to death after sweeting but bad for the environment and us eventually

12

u/Nonanonymousnow Oct 07 '22

God I wish the world would adopt and abide by paretos for things like global warming, water usage, etc ...

2

u/Travianer Oct 07 '22

What do you mean by this?

22

u/mauxfaux Oct 07 '22

I think (?) he means that by identifying and actually addressing the 20% of the known worst offenders in each category, we would likely eliminate 80% of the problems associated with each category.

0

u/manfre Oct 07 '22

There may be worse industries, but we shouldn't ignore/defer smaller contributors. We can work on improving any we identify in parallel.

5

u/Miguel-odon Oct 07 '22

Slip-lining is far less expensive than digging up the streets to repair and replace old utilities (for situations it is even applicable).

Probably time to reconsider the compounds we use in lots of things, now that we know more about them though.

3

u/jpr64 Oct 07 '22

In the US it is, in other countries, not so much. My city was devastated by earthquakes in 2010-11 and we are still repairing damaged drains. For us it is generally cheaper to dig up and lay new drains. Part of the problem is that the existing drains have lost their fall so relining them is fairly pointless.

5

u/Due-Enthusiasm5656 Oct 07 '22 edited Oct 07 '22

Couldn't they just add something at the end to help absorb the nanoplastics?

9

u/303elliott Oct 07 '22

Possibly, but I doubt they have incentive to do it. Not that I agree with it, but construction projects are focused on being as cheap and simple as possible.

1

u/[deleted] Oct 07 '22

Too bad "not spewing nano plastic into the atmosphere" doesn't count as incentive

0

u/tilfes Oct 07 '22

I can't see it, it's not there :)

194

u/FirstBankofAngmar Oct 07 '22 edited Oct 07 '22

On a more existential bend, there will never be another time in our world's history when their wasn't plastic in everything. We're in a post-plastic world. It's everywhere and in everything. Hard to wrap your head around, but hopefully, HOPEFULLY, it will not be too much of an issue with a slow change toward developments of its breakdown. Honestly, there's something so 20th century about using a material that lasts for thousands of years but use it for everything disposable.

46

u/[deleted] Oct 07 '22

Like all steel made post nuclear, it's "contaminated" just by how humanity has changed the global environment. We are beavers on a planetary scale, in the worst way possible. we are flooding the "valley" our planet, with excess pollutants while taking far to many resources to build our dams and feed our lodges. Its just not sustainable, like the cycle between predator and prey, a good year for the lynx is a bad year for the rabbit, we are gonna burn out like lynx and mother nature rabbit is going to eat our lunch, dinner and house.

3

u/MartinSensmeier Oct 07 '22

Microplastics in the air though, that seems on a whole nother scale.

1

u/pipnina Oct 07 '22

How does steel freshly made from hematite (for example) and put through an electric arc furnace get contaminated with nuclear waste? Or is it just that the atmosphere is contaminated?

1

u/[deleted] Oct 07 '22

The increased background radiation in the atmosphere is the source of contamination

16

u/Empirical_Spirit Oct 07 '22

Hopefully we don’t wrap it around our heads with plastic.

21

u/Self-rescuingQueen Oct 07 '22

Doesn't matter. Microplastic has already been found in human blood.

3

u/Legitimate_Bat3240 Oct 07 '22

Apparently donating plasma reduces forever chemicals from the blood

3

u/Bleux33 Oct 07 '22

I’m guessing due to the generation of ‘new’ blood to stabilize blood volume, post donation. The entire process dilutes foreign substance concentration overall, by natural recovery processes in response to blood lose.

In simpler terms, bad blood goes out, bad stuff goes out. The blood is replaced, the bad stuff isn’t….at least, not as quickly. Like flushing a radiator…kinda…maybe…

3

u/FirstBankofAngmar Oct 07 '22

...bloodletting in the modern world to cure the humors.

2

u/Empirical_Spirit Oct 07 '22

Despite slowing breath considerably in this lifetime, I cling to it yet and prefer the plastic naught to be wrapped too tightly.

3

u/tabac-en-paris Oct 07 '22

We see a lot of discussion about how they find nano plastics in lots of places. I’ve not seen much discussion of what the consequences are of that. What are the Consequences?

2

u/HappiestIguana Oct 07 '22

Basically, we don't know. The problem is we haven't found any population of humans without blood microplastics, so we can't compare a population with them to one without.

If there are ill effects, they seem to be small, considering life expentancy has continued to rise across the globe despite the increase in microplastics (with a hiccup due to Covid). Possibly a study could be made that compares a population of animals raised on a very specific, filtered diet free of microplastics to one that receives the same diet but unfiltered (and perhaps even a third population with a diet that is deliberately laced with higher doses of microplastics). No guarantees that this will translate to humans, but it would be a start. In any case research is ongoing.

2

u/Spaceork3001 Oct 07 '22

Couldn't large scale studies pry apart some correlation between the amount of microplastics and the incidence of different diseases? If controlled sufficiently for similar lifestyles, this could potentially point us in the right direction, without needing to find a subpopulation with zero microplastics in their blood.

1

u/HappiestIguana Oct 07 '22

The problem there is confounding factors. Microplastic exposure is largely based on geography and socioeconomic class, which are both heavily correlated with health outcomes and have been since before microplastics.

1

u/Spaceork3001 Oct 07 '22

That's what I meant with being controlled for similar lifestyles. If factors like wealth, education, BMI, drug use, medical history and so on are held constant, and microplastics amount in blood scales with some type of disease, it could point us in the right direction, no? Without having to necessarily study populations without microplastics exposure.

5

u/KnotSoSalty Oct 07 '22

Your assuming that biological organisms won’t adapt to consume plastics eventually? In a long enough time scale doesn’t it seem likely that everything man made will disappear?

3

u/wolffinZlayer3 Oct 07 '22

Already is in some rare cases. Also kinda one of those things that siunds good on the outside but u look into it and it starts to get scary quick. Food packaging home siding and medical equipment for example losing significant lifespan/shelf life.

And its not an if, its a when there is ALOT of energy stored in plastics.

1

u/BobThePillager Oct 07 '22

Ya whichever organism that can spread and reproduce while living off of processed petrochemicals first is gonna have a field day. What are the implications of this? Can’t be good

1

u/sockpuppet_285358521 Oct 07 '22

Certain mushrooms can degrade plastic,though that doesn't help the airborne plastic problem.

1

u/bakinpants Oct 07 '22

Naive. Look up how long wood was a blight on the planet before it became consumable to something. Life...ah.. yea.

1

u/TheGreat_War_Machine Oct 07 '22

Honestly, there's something so 20th century about using a material that lasts for thousands of years but use it for everything disposable.

That sounds more like the current century. Weren't a lot of appliances built to last decades ago?

40

u/Jealous-Pop-8997 Oct 07 '22

I always think about when people cut Azek and vinyl how they’re making tons of microplastics and how much that stuff is cut

I assume a lot of the particles are big enough to be heavy enough and fall to the soil I am sure the person who cuts Azek with a chop saw breathes in his share of microplastics though

51

u/yacht_boy Oct 07 '22

We had our deck redone with azek and the house re-sided with cementboard and plastic trim. It killed me to see the guys just making huge piles of plastic "sawdust" and having it run off everywhere. I have a shop dust collector and dragged it out for them to use and they just looked at me like I had 3 heads. I was out there after they were done trying to vacuum the driveway.

32

u/[deleted] Oct 07 '22 edited Oct 09 '22

[deleted]

7

u/yacht_boy Oct 07 '22

I looked long and hard for other decking. It comes down to pressure treated, which has its own environmental issues and looks absolutely awful no matter what you do to it, or exotic hardwoods ripped from the rainforest. And all the wood decking requires regular maintenance with things like poly, which is just another kind of plastic.

Outside of the small amount of construction dust, which contractors could mitigate if we pushed it, the plastic deck systems aren't shedding plastic at any appreciable quantity, last a really long time, don't contribute to tropical rain forest degredation, and don't require frequent applications of chemicals that just wash off the deck every year or two.

And don't forget that you have to actually work with a contractor, and if you get into exotic, hard to use materials many contractors will turn down the job. I looked at black locust decking and it was impossible to source, didn't come in the historic porch flooring style I wanted, cost about 3x as much, and my contractor wouldn't even consider using it.

1

u/HeadmasterPrimeMnstr Oct 07 '22

Your problem with environmental degradation of the materials can be very easily solved without poly or pressure treating by adding a roof to your deck so it's covered. In addition, it's fine if your standard wood begins to degrade in the environment because it's just a matter of replacing a decaying plank with a new one.

I don't know how long you were looking for your deck to last without maintainence, but I'll be honest, I think you're really underestimating the life cycle of untreated wood (when sanded & varnished as needed).

7

u/yacht_boy Oct 07 '22

You have no idea what you're talking about if you think adding a roof over an existing deck is "easy" or that high VOC, toxic varnishes are environmentally friendly.

Get out of here with your holier than thou sanctimony.

5

u/SpaceAgePotatoCakes Oct 07 '22

It maye not be ideal, but at least a deck is a long term structure.

2

u/Lurking_And_Twerking Oct 07 '22

The structure is still made of wood.

7

u/RON-THE-DON-0529 Oct 07 '22

As a person who works in the liner field, and replaces tons of sewer pipes, there is no exhaust of fumes, and most companies now use led lights and hot water to cure thier liners.

2

u/JackAndy Oct 07 '22

Does it work on 6" clay tile sewer pipes?

3

u/RON-THE-DON-0529 Oct 07 '22

It sure does, works on almost any pipe over 2in. As long as it's not too damaged, or doesn't have too sharp of turns

3

u/slow_connection Oct 07 '22

Yep. Had my sewer line done this way but it was cured with steam. I think most residential applications are still on steam

83

u/cultureicon Oct 07 '22

This also happens billions of times a day when we run a load of laundry with our plastic clothes. I mean we're literally wearing and breathing in microplastics from our clothes, what difference does sewer pipe repair make?

22

u/zeugenie Oct 07 '22

Micro is very different from nano, biologically

14

u/Person012345 Oct 07 '22

What are the scientifically proven deleterious effects of each.

24

u/ReignDelay Oct 07 '22 edited Oct 07 '22

“What’s so bad about it? We already do it” is a pretty pessimistic take — it’s a matter of “We want less microplastics in the most precious resource on this planet because we’re only starting to see the side effects of these practices before doing the research required to send it to production and implementing said practices.”

18

u/Banshu Oct 07 '22

Where do you think the water goes once youre done washing your clothes in it? It doesnt dissapear. They are saying there are more likely much more dangerous polutant sources that should be considered before we stop repairing water line.

20

u/1imeanwhatisay1 Oct 07 '22

What’s so bad about it? We already do it” is a pretty pessimistic take

Not pessimistic at all. It's realistic. We have a finite amount of money and time to make plastic problems better. To make up numbers for an example, if the total amount of microplastics put in the air each year is 1 trillion bits, and if cutting sewer pipes adds 47 bits per year, then saying "What's so bad about it" is actually saying "We have far greater issues to spend our money and time on." and it protects you from wasting that time and money.

8

u/cultureicon Oct 07 '22

I'll admit I didn't read the study because its paywalled and the preview gives absolutely zero useful information.

If the goal is to reduce microplastics in the environment all of these researchers should immediately pivot to researching alternatives to plastic tires, and find a way to convince the world to move away from synthetic fibers.

In other words if they managed to stop this sewer practice they would reduce microplastics by .001% (or whatever the study claims it is)

3

u/AngryT-Rex Oct 07 '22

It's a question of scale - there might be one sewer pipe repair per person per... decade, I'd guess? Actually probably way less, but let's stick with per decade.

Whereas there is one load of laundry per person per... I'm guessing per week-ish? And this probably pales in comparison to tires and brake pads.

So laundry is done something like 500x more often. Sure it's great to study everything, but it's also important to keep in mind what is significant and widespread, and what is relatively minor.

2

u/etds3 Oct 07 '22

I agree, but I also think there are much bigger pollution sources with much easier solutions than this.

5

u/Bad_Muh_fuuuuuucka Oct 07 '22

There’s plastic in my clothes?

26

u/photar12 Oct 07 '22

Polyester is the most common textile used for clothes. It is a type of plastic created from petroleum.

9

u/AS14K Oct 07 '22

Oh my sweet dear

0

u/that_noodle_guy Oct 07 '22

Are you forreal.. unless it's 100% cotton or wool. Yes of course

0

u/Bad_Muh_fuuuuuucka Oct 08 '22

I Don’t research the materials my clothes come from - shocker

1

u/that_noodle_guy Oct 08 '22

You don't research... you look at the tag on the item of clothing

3

u/AbsolutGuacaholic Oct 07 '22

I hang dry anything with synthetics. It dries fast and doesn't get as crispy as hang dried cotton.

15

u/cornylifedetermined Oct 07 '22

But you still washed it. That water has to go somewhere.

2

u/AbsolutGuacaholic Oct 07 '22

Oh ya, forgot about that. I wonder which removes the most material, washing or drying?

2

u/xmnstr Oct 07 '22

Washing. It can also be easily avoided with filters, but for some reason they're not used.

5

u/VolkspanzerIsME Oct 07 '22

Wouldn't that mean that all plastic extrusion creates nanoplastics? I realize this kind of repair usually happens in the open air, but the method used isn't much different than normal plastic manufacturing, right?

2

u/b4ttlepoops Oct 07 '22

Technology continues to morph. And Municipalities get hit by APCD fines if things aren’t done right, they don’t want anything going into storm drains. If this is correct start looking for a filtration tool on the other end of the line. I work for a PUD and it’s entirely plausible to make a filtration system to catch particular matter HEPPA or whatever during a Lining process.

2

u/sigmatrophic Oct 07 '22

Former chemist here... I'm amazed they are allowed to this. The smell of solvent and vinyl chloride is very high when I've driven or walked past one of these.

2

u/Zanzikahn Oct 07 '22

I love how construction companies focus more on cheaper costs than what they do to the environment. I love how people only use their heads after fines start being charged.

2

u/OldApartment9295 Oct 07 '22

I’m so proud of whoever said, “lets test this discharge.” Thank you.

4

u/Due-Enthusiasm5656 Oct 07 '22

Hell yeah , I was looking for a way to up my nanoplastics!

5

u/chillypete99 Oct 07 '22

Vitamin N bro.

4

u/taggospreme Oct 07 '22

you have your macros down and your micros covered, time to go after the nanos

1

u/blewsyboy Oct 07 '22

Great, they've just done this in a lot of pipes in Montreal...

4

u/Brox42 Oct 07 '22

I’ve been doing this for the past year…

3

u/hey-there-yall Oct 07 '22

People just spent the past 3 years breathing through plastic masks.

0

u/New_Parsley6211 Oct 07 '22

Better do something about it before we pollute the planet in that stuff.

0

u/theoneronin Oct 07 '22

The whole world is poisoned, it seems.

-1

u/HavanaWoody Oct 07 '22

And Ill just bet they have the patent on a solution.
Sometimes alternatives have a bigger macro impact. reducing population density would be a greater relief to whole.
But sometimes it sure seems like stomping mole hills and ignoring the inconvenient sinkholes that are swallowing our clean air.

-1

u/Beepboop_Addition Oct 07 '22

So just capture the exhaust discharge rather than let it escape freely.

Just because it's nano doesn't mean it isn't a company effectively littering into the world. Where's the bloody accountability and why does everyone lack so much of it?!

1

u/Sargo8 Oct 07 '22

Filter the steam exhaust?

1

u/Informal_Drawing Oct 07 '22

Surely mechanical removal with vacuum capture would be a better solution than throwing the contents of the sewer into the air we breathe.

1

u/Soulflyfree41 Oct 07 '22

So we are breathing poopy nanoplastics? Gross.

1

u/BillSixty9 Oct 07 '22

This just introduced a new term to me which I really should have been aware of, but I guess ignorance is a shield to fear. Nano plastics sound terrible and make the whole micro plastic conversation much more relevant.

1

u/Zanzikahn Oct 07 '22

Sounds like we need meal worm saliva.

1

u/stillyj Oct 07 '22

Sweet..always an upside

1

u/feckentool Oct 07 '22

We're down to nano now? Next you'll tell me you can detect individual molecules. Oh wait.

1

u/torukmakto4 Oct 08 '22

Once upon a time worked for a WW utility... The CIPP I have seen uses fiberglass liners saturated with ordinary "polyester"-type resin and inverted into the pipe by filling them with water, then cured by heating the water inside the lined pipe (not steam). The water doesn't directly contact resin, there is an impermeable bag/film which is what allows the liner to be wet with resin and then pressed into the pipe with water pressure inside. I suppose I am not quite clear what would be emitting airborne particulate polymers in this type of system in the first place or where from. I have heard of systems that inflate liners with steam, but how is steam even directly in contact with resin?

There are fumes, but that's mostly just styrene solvent/monomer evaporating from the resin while handling it. It's the same situation as any fiberglass work or composite that uses that type of resin system. If fumes from this resin are polymerizing into nanoparticles, then wouldn't this have bad ramifications for ALL fiberglass/polyester composite works, bondo, and tons of other products used all over the world doing the same during curing?

-3

u/surfzz318 Oct 07 '22

Wait until they learn that everything is basically made out of plastics and those plastics come from oil.

-6

u/plumppshady Oct 07 '22

It doesn't even matter anymore. Microplastic is everywhere. It's in your brain and it's at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean. It's in all the food you eat, it's in all the water you drink, and it causes no harm. Nanoplastic will probably not damage anything either.

-2

u/[deleted] Oct 07 '22 edited Oct 09 '22

[deleted]

1

u/SecurelyObscure Oct 07 '22

You want someone to prove it doesn't cause harm? How?

-1

u/Angus_Ripper Oct 07 '22

In on the updated table for normal healthy male testosterone levels of 75 ng/dL

-1

u/Eric1969 Oct 07 '22

Would it be a lesser evil to burn plastic trash?