SCIENCE

Congress Is Coming For Your Facewash

Microbeads in cosmetics aren't just bad for the environment—they also contain dangerous chemicals

Dec 08, 2015 at 3:04 PM ET

Microbeads, round bits of plastic found in cosmetics like toothpaste and soap, are so small that they can pass right through filtration systems and into our waterways. In attempt to curb some of that plastic pollution, especially in the Great Lakes, the House recently passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. If the legislation makes it through the Senate, it would likely phase-out microbeads in all non-prescription cosmetics within the next two years.

Here’s the problem. The Great Lakes may already be contaminated with up to 1.1 million microbeads per square mile—and fish love to chow down on those tiny plastics. Meanwhile, microbeads both absorb and emit dangerous chemicals (think BPA and DDT) and those effects are only magnified as we go further up the food chain, through a process called biomagnification. Essentially, when a human eats a big fish that ate a small fish that ate some microbeads, the human is often subject to the most toxic exposure.

Here’s why microbeads matter: