Experts found that approximately eight trillion microbeads are entering various aquatic sources in the US daily. This number is said to be sufficient to cover more than 300 tennis courts, as per a scientific opinion report published in the journal Environmental Science and technology.

How this affects humans and wildlife in general is something serious as a group of environmentalists have already called for an effort to ban the beads.

Microbeads are plastic substances that measure about 5μ m to 1 mm in size. The components of these beads include polypropylene, polyethylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polystyrene and other synthetic polymers. Microbeads are present in personal care products such as facial washes, toothpaste and cleaning agents among many others. Generally, these materials are used for exfoliating and scrubbing purposes such that these are also used to replace natural exfoliants such as oatmeal and pumice.

The problem of these microbeads lies in its tiny size, which allows it to pass through filters and be released into waterways via final effluent everyday. At wastewater treatment plants, the microbeads settle. While some are land-applied as fertilizers, about 800 trillion goes to aquatic habitats. Once released to the water bodies, these microbeads absorb chemical pollutants, which may be ingested by marine animals and subsequently cause infection, inflammation and tissue damage.

More than covering the aquatic bodies, this microbead invasion may also affect humans and wildlife in multiple ways.

As the microbeads look attractive to fish and marine animals, these may be regarded as tasty food. So aside from its already harmful chemical ingredients, microbeads that have absorbed other pollutants can truly be toxic for water animals to consume.

When the small fish or creatures that have ingested the toxic materials become eaten by bigger animals, the microbeads can travel all throughout the food chain and may subsequently reach humans as well, said John F. Calvelli from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Corals may also be affected by this environmental problem as microbeads may highly be mistaken as a food items. When ingested, the digestive tract of the corals may be impeded that inadequate nutrition and subsequent poor health may result.

People may also be affected as fish materials for food and other services may decrease in supplies.

According to the paper led by Chelsea Rochman from the University of California/Davis, prohibiting microbeads from entering wastewater treatment reservoir will climactically safeguard the quality of water, the wildlife and the resources that human use.

Photo: NOAA Marine Debris Program | Flickr

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