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Unusual Source of Plastic Pollution in Waterways: Facial Scrubs

Credit: 5 Gyres Institute.  Used with permission.
Credit: 5 Gyres Institute. Used with permission.

You know those face scrubs that promise soft, smooth skin from “microbead exfoliation”?

Well turns out those “microbeads” are micro-plastics and they’re ending up in lakes and rivers.

Scientists with a Los Angeles-based research group have documented the growing amount of plastics in Lake Erie.

The researchers at the 5 Gyres Institute plan to soon publish their results.

Scientists here are taking note.

Cathi Lehn is with the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization and studies this issue.

LEHN: You’re scrubbing your face with these plastic microbeads and then washing them down the drain, which then heads into our wastewater and eventually makes it into the lake because our treatment plants won’t pick it up.

The plastic bits are problematic because they absorb pollutants like PCBs.

And, to wildlife, they look tasty.

LEHN: They are perfectly round. They look like fish eggs, which is a common food in the food chain.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has found evidence of plastic within the bellies of yellow perch.

Microbeads could be the source.

Researchers from several Great Lake states are looking into these plastics, to better understand the extent and possible impacts to the ecosystem and human health.

Several major brands—such as L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson—recently announced they’ll pull microbeads out of their product lines, due to pollution concerns.

Nature has great micro-scrubbers that can still give you that soft smooth skin, says Lehn.

Think pumice, oatmeal, and apricot seeds.

anne.glausser@ideastream.org | 216-916-6129