Microbeads, commonly found in face and body washes, are tiny plastic beads used for scent or as an exfoliator—and now they’re a threat to the environment. Scientists are finding that the beads, which are no bigger than a grain of salt, in high concentrations in the nation’s water supply, including the Great Lakes. Scientist Marcus Eriksen says the beads soak up pesticides and chemicals once they are washed down the drain and that water treatment plants can’t filter out the tiny plastics, allowing them to flow into the ocean or waterways.
Since the discovery, the Environmental Protection Agency has been looking into the potential dangers of having microbeads in the water supply.
“Big fish eat little fish; eventually the fish is on your dinner plate,” said Eriksen. “And you’re eating that fish along with all the toxins it consumed along the way.”
The research shows that the tiny beads have been damaging water supplies for years. There is even an international campaign to ban microbeads, Beat the Microbead. The Campaign states “over 663 different species were negatively impacted by marine debris with approximately 11% of reported cases specifically related to the ingestion of microplastics.”
Several major cosmetic companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have vowed to phase out the microbeads for other natural alternatives, but the shift could take several years for such large companies. The best way to phase out products with microbeads is for consumers to become aware of the issue and not purchase or support products that contain the beads.