Millions Of Microbeads From Soap Have Contaminated The US Great Lakes

December 30, 2013 • Water, United States, News

Millions Of Microbeads From Soap Have Contaminated The US Great Lakes

On top of invading Asian carp and algae blooms, the Great Lakes are being polluted with tiny plastic beads from soap. The polyethylene beads are most commonly found in exfoliating facial scrubs, but they also appear in body washes and toothpastes. Americans buy products containing 573,000 pounds of them every year. Incredibly, a single tube of Johnson & Johnson facial scrub Clean & Clear, for example, contains 330,000 beads.

These microbeads wash down our drains, accumulate in our oceans and, according to a recent study, even flow out into our troubled Great Lakes. There, the tiny plastic beads can be mistaken for fish food. If just eating plastic isn’t bad enough for the fish, these beads also soak up toxins like PCBs and pesticides in the water. A recent study of lugworms in the Atlantic, for example, suggests that small pieces of plastic transfer toxins to the creatures that eat them. In other words, our exfoliating scrubs could be turning into pretty poison pills, little floating points of toxicity for fish.

Worse, there’s no known way to get rid of the beads from the lakes: because they’re so tiny, filtering them out also means capturing plankton, an important food source for aquatic creatures. Even sewage treatment systems aren’t equipped to catch the beads before they enter the larger ecosystem. The plastic beads are so small and light that they float, whereas treatment plants are designed to remove heavy, solid materials that sink.

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