The base of an aquatic ecosystem is algae and bacteria. These are eaten by critters one level up the food chain with a generic name of "plankton". Plankton eat very tiny things, including microbeads in the ocean. Since the microbeads are not digestible, the organism gets full of microbeads, cannot eat any thing else, and starves to death.
This plastic doesn't physically break down much more, but it also absorbs toxins. When other animals eat high-toxin microbeads, the animals can produce damaged young, or simply die.
- Microbeads are typically 1mm or smaller but it depends on the agency and how the define "microbead". On the ingredients list look for ingredients of plastics, like polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or polymethyl methacrylate.
- Plastic particles store PCBs up to 100,000 to 1 million times the levels found in ocean water.
- "Microplastics" are microbeads but also tiny plastic particles that have broken down from larger plastic pieces. If you are researching this, also use the search term "microplastics".
- Some microbeads float, some sink. It all depends on the density of the material they are made from.
- Some studies show microbeads are "safe", like the one by Karposi 2014 which studied sea urchins, but the study was only 5 days long, hardly enough to show subclinical non-obvious effects.
- The US emits enough 100um microbeads to cover more than 300 tennis courts each day.
- The oceans contain about 250,000 tons of microbeads.
- Microbeads have been found in St. Lawrence sediment.
- In St. Lawrence sediment they found more than 1000 microbeads per liter of sediment.
How you can help.
- Stop buying products with microbeads. Look on the label for the word "microbeads" or look for the materials in Data Bits bullet 1.
- Email your congress person to tell them you support banning microbeads.
- List of studies on Beat The Microbead.
- Microbeads, a Science Summary. Canada. July 2015. Link to PDF.
- Rochman, Chelsea, et al. Scientific evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads. Environmental Science and Technology. Sep 3, 2015. Link to PDF.
- Rowshyra A. Castañeda, Suncica Avlijas, M. Anouk Simard, Anthony Ricciardi, Ralph Smith. Microplastic pollution in St. Lawrence River sediments. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1139/cjfas-2014-0281. Link to abstract.
- Schneiderman, Eric T. Unseen threat: How Microbeads Harm New York Waters, Wildlife, Health, and Environment. New York State Attorney General. This PDF has tables showing max concentrations of microbeads per sq km, and average concentrations in the Great Lakes. There is also a map of the Great Lakes showing the density of microbeads at various sample sites. Link to PDF.
- ScienceDaily search for "microbead". Last accessed Apr 20, 2016.