What’s the environmental impact of microbeads?
Microbeads are so small that they aren’t caught by most water treatment plants, so they wind up in lakes, streams, and oceans. According to a report by New York’s attorney general, as many as 19 tons of microbeads could be discharged into the state’s waterways each year. Assuming all Americans are dumping microbeads at that rate, 300 tons per year end up in US waterways.
The beads, which can resemble fish eggs, are mistaken for food and ingested by fish and other marine animals. The plastic also acts as a sponge for toxins, soaking up pesticides, phthalates, and heavy metals and carrying them through the food chain. Tuna and swordfish are turning up with microbeads in their stomachs.
What’s the health impact of microbeads?
The movement to ban microbeads has really gathered steam because of concerns about their effects on human health. In March 2014, dental hygienist and blogger Trish Walraven sounded the alarm with an article about how she was finding “bits of blue plastic in my patients’ mouths every single day.” The plastic, she wrote, came from Crest toothpaste, and it was getting stuck in patients’ gums. Now, dentists are concerned that the microbeads trap bacteria, possibly causing gingivitis. Procter and Gamble, which makes the toothpaste, insists that microbeads are safe, but has pledged to rid Crest products of plastic microbeads by next March.
There are other concerns about ingesting microbeads—both from using products like toothpaste and from eating fish containing the plastic bits. The Environmental Working Group notes that the plastics that make up some microbeads are suspected to be hormone disruptors, so “eating them at your fish fry would not only lend an unpleasant texture to your beer-battered fish but could also add an unhealthy dose of estrogen-mimicking chemicals.”
How do I tell if my products contain microbeads?