Cosmetics not pretty for fish

by Jeff Helsdon | October 16, 2013

cosmetics - facial cleaners splotches

Plastics from facial and body scrubs are the latest threat to Great Lakes fish.

Micro-beads — small plastic beads less than 3⁄64 of an inch in size — are used as an abrasive in many facial and body scrubs. These beads, which are too small to be removed by water-treatment plants, end up in the Great Lakes. Now, State University of New York (SUNY) researchers in collaboration with the 5 Gyres Institute have found high concentrations in Lakes Erie, Huron, and Superior, with Erie having the highest levels.

The summer of 2012 was the first time the Great Lakes were surveyed for plastics. Further surveys for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River were carried out in August.

Project leader Sherri Mason of SUNY explained research on micro-plastics in the Great Lakes is new, but based on ocean studies, researchers assume the plastics line the stomachs of fish. “They line the intestinal tract, preventing the absorption of nutrients into the circulatory system,” she said, adding malnourishment or death can result.

Chemicals can complicate the problem. “We have shown that plastics in the Great Lakes absorb chemicals of concern from the waters,” Mason said. “It is also possible for the chemicals to desorb into the fish once eaten. This wouldn’t necessarily cause death, but could affect not only the fish itself, but several successive generations.”

Researchers are asking cleaning product manufacturers to stop using plastics as abrasives and switch to natural materials. Some have promised compliance.

Sign up for our mailing list

indicates required
Email format