Is there a major environmental hazard in your toothpaste?

Researchers from seven different institutions have joined forces in an effort to urge lawmakers to do something about microbeads. More than eight trillon of these small plastic bits have entered aquatic habits in the United States- an unfathomable number have entered the world’s total water supply.

A microbead is a tiny plastic bead often found in personal care and beauty products such as toothpaste and face wash. No bigger than a grain of sand, the microbeads add that little bit of grittiness that many find desirable for cleaning and exfoliating.

These beads are not biodegradable and many end up being ingested by animals and sometimes even humans.

The ultra-small beads are not caught by filtration systems. The easily slip through sewage treatment systems and return into the water, causing widespread plastic pollution in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

“We’ve demonstrated in previous studies that microplastic of the same type, size and shape as many microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects,” said Chelsea Rochman, lead author of the study.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced into Congress that would stop the wide spread use of microbeads. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 proposed legislation that would “ban cosmetics that contain synthetic plastic microbeads” starting in 2018.

“We argue that the scientific evidence regarding microplastic supports legislation calling for a removal of plastic microbeads from personal care products,” said Rochman.

Already, about a dozen states have legislation forbidding the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products. However, many of these bans are easy to circumvent. Rochman urges lawmakers to close the loopholes pertaining to environmental threats such as microbeads.

Some companies are seizing on the opportunity to do good and market their products as environmentally friendly- not to mention get a head start on any impending legislation. Major companies such as Johnson and Johnson, L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever have already begun to limit, if not eliminate, the use of microbeads in their products.

Biodegradable and nontoxic alternatives to microbeads exist and provide the same scrubbing power. However, they are slightly more expensive. Therefore, companies need to be pushed into adopting the environmentally friendly option as the new standard.

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