Research published over the past year has revealed a new threat to lake health coming from an unlikely source: face wash. The companies that make face and body wash have been increasingly using tiny plastic “microbeads”. The microbeads, often under one millimeter in diameter slip through most waste water treatment systems. Their ability to stay suspended in liquids is both part of what makes plastic microbeads popular with manufacturers and part of what makes them so problematic (once floating in open water they resemble insect eggs and other food sources to fish). The accumulations in lakes and rivers are beginning to alarm scientist who are just starting to understand the ecological implications. The microbeads in our cleaning products threaten to introduce the bioaccumulation problem into more Midwestern food webs, potentially even impacting people who catch and eat fish from lakes.
Recently scientists from Canada reported measurable concentrations of plastic microbeads in the river sediment of the St. Lawrence River. Their findings indicate that plastic concentrations in river sediment are similar to the most contaminated ocean sediment samples. No research has been done yet to look at how microbeads are impacting smaller inland lakes and rivers. However, it is highly likely that microbeads are being carried along with treated wastewater from municipal systems that discharge into rivers or lakes. We also know very little about how microbeads move and affect septic systems. Since some septic waste is pumped and then treated at municipal plants, they too could be delivering plastic debris to the environment.
What can we do: The simplest remedy is to stop buying and using products that contain microbeads. This includes soaps, toothpaste, and certain makeup products. There is an app to help consumers determine if a product has microbeads. Download the Beat the Microbead app to your smartphone. Simply scan a product’s bar bode to learn if it contains microbeads. You can also tell by liking for the ingredients polyethylene or polypropylene.
|Microbeads from toothpaste|
“Lakes Tide” Volume 39, No. 4 Fall/Winter 2014: 1-3. Print