By Joe Bongiovanni
Tiny microbeads, a type of microplastic commonly used in beauty products and facial creams, are reported to be contaminating drinking water supplies throughout the United States. Environmentalists are becoming particularly concerned about the buildup of these particles in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are the largest source of fresh water in the entire world and are up against a number of threats, including:
- Parking Lot and Street Runoff
- Local Pollution
- Agricultural Matter
- Pesticides and Herbicides
- Algae Blooms
- Livestock Waste
- Asian Carp
So do these microbeads really matter in the overall health of the Great Lakes? Well the short answer is yes. The biggest issue with the microbeads is that they compound existing problems facing the lakes. Microbeads are about the same size as fish eggs and can be mistaken for food by fish. These microbeads begin to bio-accumulate and move up the food chain as each fish is eaten by a bigger fish. The particles end up in the food at our grocery store or are spread to other ecosystems by predators like birds. On top of that, microbeads are a type of microplastics. It is feared that these microplastics are absorbing and distributing dangerous chemical pollutants throughout the food chain in the Great Lakes and surrounding areas. Sherri Mason said the following in an interview with National Public Radio:
“In 2012, we surveyed three of the five Great Lakes. We looked at Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie, and they flow into each other that way, so Lake Superior’s kind of the starting point of the Great Lakes chain. And what we do is we drag what’s called a manta trawl. It’s along the surface. It’s a great big net, essentially, that we drag along the surface of the water.
And we collect anything that’s bigger than a third of a millimeter in diameter so it’s plastic, but we also collect plankton and fish and vascular plants and all sorts of stuff. And basically, what we found is as we went from Superior to Huron to Lake Erie, the concentration or the number of plastic particles increased. That wasn’t a huge surprise. We did expect that, because of the fact that the water flows into each other.
Ninety percent of the plastic that we found was in Lake Erie. The largest being around 450,000 plastic particles per square kilometer, which in kind of more layman terms, that’s over 1 million plastic particles per square mile.”
Environmentalists, legislatures, and nonprofits have been pushing for the removal of plastics from beauty products for years now. There is a growing consensus that a product like plastic, which is designed to last millions of years, simply has no place in the 21st century. 5 Gyres is a nonprofit organization with a vision of witnessing plastic pollution decline in the environment until it is no longer found in the world’s oceans. They have been at the forefront of efforts of banning microbeads and plastic bottles across the United States and the rest of the world. Their “Beat the Microbead” partnered-campaign has created an app that allows users to scan the bar code of a product to determine if it contains microbeads.