​8 Trillion Plastic Microbeads: Researchers Warn Of Exyreme Environmental Impact To Aquatic Life

Author: Jennifer HongBy:
Staff Reporter
Sep. 19, 2015

Scientists say that 8 trillion plastic microbeads are polluting the oceans in a study by a research team comprising of environment experts and researchers from seven institutions across the United States. The researchers have found extensive amounts of microbeads in aquatic bodies, 8 trillion to be exact, and marine and freshwater life to urge law makers to ban their use to limit aquatic pollution from plastic, according to Science World Report. The team have found out the devastating effects.

In the increasing rate of marine and fresh water has 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.”

8 trillion plastic microbeads causing pollution in oceans

The 8 trillion plastic microbeads 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.

The researchers found the amount of microbeads quantity by using extremely conservative methodology. They estimated that 8 trillion plastic 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 that 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, which pollutes the oceans with 8 trillion plastic microbeads.

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