Microbeads are not processed through standard sewer filtration [i]. These beads, which can provide a gentler face scrub, are entering into every layer of the ocean food cycle. Plankton blooms containing microbeads are consumed by various filter feeders. Plastic fibers of all kinds have been found to be consumed by mussels in lab experiments[ii]. These ocean floor feeders[iii] are unable to tell floating food micro particulates from microbeads. White, blue, and clear microbeads are especially likely to be consumed as they resemble naturally occurring fish eggs[iv]. This consumption of plastic doesn’t stop at the ocean’s surface, sea birds such as fulmars consume fish laden with microbeads, and in turn are filled with plastic particulates[v].
Once consumed, the microbeads themselves do not pose a direct health issue. In research on rats there was barely any direct absorption into the rat’s livers, less than 1%. Unfortunately, there are some very nasty indirect effects. Microbeads drifting through the ocean attract toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), organochlorine pesticides (e.g., DDT, HCH), as well as other organic contaminants[vi]. These toxins are then transferred to the stomachs of the animals that consume them. These toxins then build up in fat cells and in turn trickle up the food web[vii].
Fish who consume these microplastics may not be able to process them out of their bodies[viii]. Once a significant amount of beads have built up it can lead to an increase of the fish’s buoyancy, preventing it from swimming down. The beads can also cause intestinal blockages and inflammation. It also could lead to “reduced reproductive fitness, drowning, diminished predator avoidance, impairment of feeding ability, and the potential transfer of damaging toxicants from seawater and ultimately death (Wright et.al, 2013, p.487).”
Just ignoring the seafood section off the menu won’t divorce humans from microbead contamination. When fish are processed and filleted the waste fish is commonly used in animal feed. This feed is then given to pigs and other livestock. It’s time for people to stop using microbeads before all the bacon is ruined.
Help support the ban of microbead plastics. Support H.R.1321 in the senate. An amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit microbeads in cosmetics.
[i] Andrady, A. L. (2011). Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62, 1596-1605. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul2011.05.030, (see also) Boerger, C. M., Lattin, G. L., Moore, S. L., & Moore, C. J. (2010). Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the north pacific central gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin 60, 2275-2278., Bouwmeester, H., Hallman, P. C. H., & Peters, R. J. B. (2015). Potential health impact of environmentally released micro- and nonplastics in the human food production chain: Experiences from nanotoxicology. Environmental Science & Technology 49, 8932-8947. doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b01090, Rios, L. M., Moore, C., Jones, P. R. (2007) Persistent organic pollutants carried by synthetic polymers in the ocean environment. Marine pollution bulletin 54, 1230-1237. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2007.03.022, Thompson, R. C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R. P., Davis, A., Rowland, S. J., John, A. W. G., McGonigle, D., & Russell, A. E. (2004). Lost at Sea: Where is all the plastic? Science 304, 838., &
Wright, S. L., Thompson, R. C., & Galloway, T. S. (2013). The physical impacts of microplastics on marine organisms: A review. Environmental Pollution 178, 483-492.
[ii] .Moore, C., Jones, P. R. (2007) Persistent organic pollutants carried by synthetic polymers in the ocean environment. Marine pollution bulletin 54, 1230-1237. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2007.03.022
[iii] Moos, N., Burkhardt-Holm, P., & Kohler, A. (2012). Uptake and effect of microplastics on cells and tissue of the blue mussel mytilus eduli L. after an experimental exposure. Environmental Science & Technology 46, 11327-11335.
[iv] Boerger, C. M., Lattin, G. L., Moore, S. L., & Moore, C. J. (2010). Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the north pacific central gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin 60, 2275-2278.
[v] Avery-Gomm, S., O’Hara, P. D., Kliene, L., Bowes, V., Wilson, L. K., & Barry, K. L. (2012). Northern fulmars as biological monitors of trends of plastic pollution in eastern north pacific. Marine Pollution Bulletin 64, 1776-1781.
[vi] Bouwmeester, H., Hallman, P. C. H., & Peters, R. J. B. (2015). Potential health impact of environmentally released micro- and nonplastics in the human food production chain: Experiences from nanotoxicology. Environmental Science & Technology 49, 8932-8947. doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b01090
[vii] Cole, C., Lindeque, P., Halsband, C. & Galloway, T. S. (2011). Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: A review. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62, 2588-2587. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul2011.09.025
[viii] Fendall, L. S. & Sewell, M. A. (2009). Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: Microplastics in facial cleansers. Marine Pollution Bulletin 58, 1225-1228.