Microbeads Are Polluting U.S. Bodies Of Water
They are small, tiny, indestructible little beads — and they could be in a waterway near you.
Microbeads, which are used in soaps and exfoliates, have become a hot topic lately.
But what is so bad about microbeads?
Dan Morhaim, a Maryland democrat in the House of Delegates, said he thinks people unfamiliar with the topic tend to be surprised by how ubiquitous the issue is.
"It's in soaps, cosmetics and toothpaste," he says. "So, imagine every time everybody that we know brushes their teeth and spits down the drain, they are probably expelling microbeads."
And with how many other times people wash their hands and their face, a lot of those microbeads are making their way down the drain.
"That's a lot of microbeads for a lot of years, and it's not filtered by wastewater treatment plants," says Morhaim. "So, all these little indestructible plastic beads go into the waterways and ... it enters the bottom of the food chain, either in vegetation or in the tiny animals. "Everybody knows the food chain goes up to the larger animals, and then to us."
Jennifer Caddick, engagement director for The Alliance for the Great Lakes, Chicago, says research shows that the tiny beads "tend to look like food for fish out there."
"We know that fish and possibly other wildlife consume these microbeads, and that's not good for them for two reasons," she says. "One, it's not actually food, so they are filling up their stomachs with things that don't provide any nutrients for them. Two, another concern is that we know these plastic microbeads collect other toxins."
She said researchers are looking at whether or not the fish eating microbeads are showing signs of those toxins.
The unique chemistry involved in microbead creation makes them hard to destroy — particularly once they get into a body of water. The Personal Care Products Council, however, states there is no scientific evidence showing that microbeads harm the environment, but that there is nonetheless a concern that over time microbeads may end up in waterways in large quantities. Research is already starting to show this.
"In, for instance, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, [researchers] were finding millions of these little things in their sampling nets," says Caddick. "It's a pretty significant concern. When you look out on the Great Lakes, you don't see them ... because they are so small. But the researchers sampled the waters with really fine nets and were able to find these microplastics in significant quantities. It's really an unseen [problem] out there in the Great Lakes and other waterways."
As such, many state governments have begun passing legislation to halt production, as well as limit or ban microbeads from products in both the cosmetic and commercial marketplace.
Jonathan DePaolis is a freelance writer based in Frankfort, Illinois.