Scientists Raise Alarm As 8 Trillion Plastic Microbeads Polluting Oceans

Posted: Sep 19 2015, 3:51pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Scientists Raise Alarm as 8 Trillion Plastic Microbeads Polluting Oceans
Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat. CREDIT: Image by 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University
  • Researchers call for banning microbeads to control aquatic pollution.

Researcher have found extensive amounts of microbeads in aquatic bodies and marine and freshwater life. They hope to urge law makers to ban use of these microbeads to limit aquatic pollution.

A research team comprised of environmental experts and researchers from seven institutions across the USA including Conservation Research Program, Society for Conservation Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, Aquatic Health Program, University of California, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, University of California, USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Wyoming, Department of Environmental Science, Management and Policy, University of California Berkeley, Marine Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Department of Integrative Biology, Oregon State University, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary and Department of Economics, Georgia State University recently published an article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The researchers have found out the devastating effects of microbeads on the aquatic life.

At an increasing rate, marine and fresh water have been found to contain a great amount of microplastic. The most commonly used product being used by the population are microbeads. Ranging in size from roughly 5 μm to 1 mm.

"We're facing a plastic crisis and don't even know it," said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and co-author of this report.

"Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning," she said. "Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable."

They are made from synthetic polymers including polyethylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polypropylene, polystyrene, or polyethylene terephthalate. Microbeads are used in hundreds of products, often as abrasive scrubbers, including face washes, body washes, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies. The microbeads are very durable.

Researchers found the quantity of microbeads by using extremely conservative methodology. They estimated that 8 trillion microbeads per day are being emitted into aquatic habitats in the United States.

That is enough to cover more than 300 tennis courts a day. The other 99 percent of the microbeads, roughly the same amount, end up in sludge from sewage plants, which is often spread over areas of land. Many of those microbeads can then make their way into streams and oceans through runoff.

"Microbeads are just one of many types of microplastic found in aquatic habitats and in the gut content of wildlife," said Chelsea Rochman, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California/Davis, and lead author on the analysis.

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

The major problem with microbeads is their size. They are very durable and can stay without disintegrating for a long time. They are tiny and can easily pass through any filtering system and end up in the water bodies.

This presents the difficulty of large-scale cleanup. Environmental managers, scientists, and environmentalists have stressed that the best solution to microplastic pollution is source reduction.

Recently, one source of microplastic has received much attention in the media and from policy makers: plastic microbeads. Microbeads can be replaced by organic matter including and natural exfoliating materials, such as pumice, oatmeal, or walnut husks.

The research paper proposed that if legislation is sought new wording should ensure that a material that is persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic is not added to products designed to go down the drain.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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