Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Facial and Body Scrub Microbeads Pose Serious Risk to Environment

Environmentalists recently found an abundance of microbead that are commonly found in facial scrubs, body scrubs, soaps and toothpaste in several bodies of water, including Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario. While seemingly harmless, the plastic beads which range in size from 0.0004 to 1.24 mm easily get past wastewater filtration systems and flow out into lakes, posing a risk to marine and plant life.

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Possibly the most harmful risk from this is ingestion by marine life. The beads, usually made from polypropylene or polyethylene, can absorb toxic pollutants like motor oils which can work its way to the bloodstream "all the way up the food chain, even into the fish eaten by humans," according to the New York Environmental Protection Bureau.

A study published in December 2013 by the Marine Pollution Bulletin revealed an average of 17,000 microbeads per square kilometer in Lake Michigan, and 1.1 million microbeads per square kilometer were found in Lake Ontario.

In Illinois, an ordinance has already been passed eliminating the use of microbeads by 2019. Three other U.S. states - California, New York and Ohio - also have similar bills banning the beads still pending final approval due to alleged disagreements over certain details.

Green groups had braced themselves for strong opposition from big manufacturing companies - Unilever, Colgate, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and L'Oreal - to remove or replace the plastic beads from their product lines. However, they were surprised at the companies' easy acquiescence.

"To have that happen in one year is rare. I was not predicting we'd get it done at all," said a representative from the Illinois Environmental Council.

A representative of the companies from the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois said that the quick deal had only resulted from "unique circumstances" such as the availability of alternative ingredients.

On Wednesday, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014, disallowing the nationwide sale of personal care items containing synthetic microbeads by 2018. The bill is referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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