What's the issue?
When we use these products with plastic microbeads, those beads wash down the drain, ending up in wastewater treatment systems. Depending on the type of wastewater treatment, some of the microbeads will be captured in sewage sludge, but some slip through our systems and into our rivers.
Why it's important
Like many emerging issues, we are not quite sure of the long-term effects of microbeads, but we do suspect that they will impact our aquatic ecosystems and human health.
Microbeads are about the size of fish eggs, so water creatures, fish and birds see them as food, apparently mistaking them for fish eggs. And if we eat the fish and birds, scientists suggest that those chemicals and the chemicals they may absorb could be passed on to us.
Few studies have yet been published on the occurrence of microplastics in freshwater organisms, but research is underway, especially in the Great Lakes. The University of Michigan is working on a project to assess the impact of microplastics on the Great Lakes' ecosystem health. A University of Wisconsin-Superior researcher is examining persistent organic chemicals related to microplastics and microbeads in Great Lakes fish.
What's being done
The best way to prevent harm from microbead plastics is to keep them out of our water in the first place.
By: MINNESOTA POLLUTION CONTROL AGENCY