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"Microbeads" in soap are destroying the environment -- and Illinois just became the first state to ban them

A new law addresses the tiny exfoliants accumulating in our lakes, rivers and oceans


Lindsay Abrams
June 11, 2014 1:23AM (UTC)

Illinois is officially the first state to take a stand against the scourge of microbeads, those tiny, non-biodegradable plastic beads found in facial scrubs that both exfoliate the skin and contribute heavily to the massive pollution problem in our lakes, rivers and oceans. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the law Sunday, banning the manufacture and sale of all such products, in part due to what they've done to Lake Michigan. NPR reported last month:

Sherri Mason, an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York, Fredonia, sailed with a research team over the past couple of years to collect data on the prevalence of plastics in the lakes. They dragged a fine mesh net in the waters at half-hour intervals to snag what they could — "anything that's bigger than a third of a millimeter," Mason says.

When the boat docked at Chicago's Navy Pier last summer, Mason showed off the sample bottles of microbeads that she and her team had collected in Lake Michigan.

Mason says her testing found, on average, 17,000 bits of tiny plastic items per square kilometer in Lake Michigan. The levels were much lower in Lake Huron and Lake Superior, but Lake Erie and Lake Ontario had much higher concentrations.

..."They are about the same size as fish eggs, which means that, essentially, they look like food. To any organism that lives in the water, they are food," Mason says. "So our concern is that, essentially, they are making their way into the food web."

California, along with Great Lake-containing states Minnesota, Ohio and New York, are all considering microbead bans of their own. In a statement, Quinn expressed the hope that "banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow.'

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Lindsay Abrams

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Illinois Microbeads Plastic Pollution Soap Water Pollution

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