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What goes down our drain doesn't always get filtered out before it hits the water.

Plastic beads found in health and beauty products polluting the Great Lakes

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    Kasia Bodurka

    Friday, October 25, 2013, 6:46 PM -

    What goes down our kitchen and bathroom drains doesn't always get filtered out before it hits the waterways.

    Tiny plastic beads found in many health and beauty products are slipping through the system and ending up in The Great Lakes. 

    "It started with just the idea of looking in the Great Lakes and when we brought in our first trolls and we looked inside and we found all these little beads floating [in the water]," says Sherri A. Mason an Associate Professor at the State University of New York -Fredonia, and  the principle investigator in the Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Survey

    "You're immediately taken aback and surprised."

    Miriam Diamond a professor at the University of Toronto, says that the findings aren't surprising.

    "Plastic is a great material because it's sturdy and it doesn't degrade easily. That means it will easily accumulate in the environment," she explains.

    The big concern is that fish will eat the micro plastics and they will move up the food chain, possibly to us. What makes matters worse, according to researchers, is the amount of chemicals still present in the Great Lakes. 

    "Plastics can act as a sponge for these synthetic chemicals, so if the plastic gets eaten by an organism ... then all the chemicals that are absorbed by that plastic will also get eaten by that organism," Mason says.

    There is anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of plastic beads per square kilometre in the Great Lakes.

    The best thing we can do to help is reduce the amount of plastics we use, and read labels.

    Some health and beauty companies have replaced the natural exfoliates in their products (like oatmeal and walnut husks) for polyethylene, an ingredient that's often marketed at "micro beads" or "micro exfoliates".

    The next time you purchase a health or beauty product, do your part and make sure it's free of these micro plastics. 

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