Clarifying the situation of microplastics in the atmosphere
Taking on the world’s most cutting-edge research

Department of Earth Sciences,Resources and Environmental Engineering(CSE Graduate School)
Master’s program 2nd year
Machiko Fujikawa
Hiroshi Okochi Laboratory

Q What kind of research are you currently working on?

I am researching the impact of microplastics on the environment and health. ‘Microplastics’ refer to minute plastic waste with a diameter of 5 mm or less that is believed to be dispersed into the atmosphere, raising various concerns about its impact on the human body.

One such concern regards fragrance pollution. Fragrance pollution is caused by synthetic detergents, fabric softeners, perfumes and so on, and in severe cases it can lead to chemical sensitivity. Symptoms include headaches and dizziness that can interfere with daily life, for example by making it impossible to go to work or school, and in recent years it has become to be regarded as a social problem.

There are also concerns about the impact on the environment. A type of plastics called microcapsules are used in products like detergents and fabric softeners to make their scent last longer. When you dry or wear clothes that have been washed with such detergents and fabric softeners, these microcapsules are dispersed into the atmosphere, becoming a potential source of microplastics in the air.

Microcapsules range in size from a few μm to several thousand μm in diameter. Considering that the diameter of human hair is 100 μm, it’s easy to see that many of the particles are extremely small and are invisible to the naked eye. In an indoor drying experiment double-sided tape was attached to floor and shelves; upon examining its surface, the presence of substances that appeared to be microcapsules was discovered.

An opportunity to expand one’s horizons through international exchange programs

Q What did you do as part of your student life?

As an extracurricular activity, I participated in a program in which students from ASEAN countries and Japan discussed the problem of marine plastic waste, something which left a lasting impression on me.
During the discussions, issues and solutions to the marine plastic problem were summarized and policy recommendations were made. In ASEAN countries, plastics are causing major damage, for example blocking drainage ditches and causing flooding. I was able to experience first-hand how the same issue is perceived and approached differently depending on the region, and this broadened my perspective.

We also held classes at elementary schools and high schools in different regions in order to raise awareness of this issue. The students asked a lot of pertinent questions, had a wide range of knowledge and were very eager to learn, which was impressive.

At the Declaration Ceremony of the ASEAN-JAPAN Cooperation Declaration Project

Q How do you envision your career path after graduation?

I have decided to join the Ministry of the Environment. I look forward to tackling environmental issues at a deeper level from an international perspective.