Plastic microbeads, which are typically less than a millimetre wide and are too small to be filtered by sewage-treatment plants, are able to carry deadly toxins into the animals that ingest them, including those in the human food chain such as fish, mussels and crabs, scientists said.
While many people have assiduously tried to recycle their plastic waste, cosmetics companies have at the same time been quietly adding hundreds of cubic metres of plastics such as polyethylene to products that are deliberately designed to be washed into waste-water systems – one estimate suggests that, in the US alone, up to 1,200 cubic metres of microplastic beads are washed down the drains each year.
Originally, the cosmetics industry used natural ingredients such as ground-up apricot kernels, crushed walnut shells and dried coconut as skin exfoliants – gentle abrasives that can remove dirt and dead layers of cells.
However, at some point in the late 1990s some companies quietly switched to plastic microbeads and the practice quickly spread to other firms and now includes most skin scrubs, polishes and soaps, even when they are not sold as skin exfoliants,
Microbeads, which are often labelled simply as "PE", "PP" or "PMMA" in the product ingredients, are now found in more than 100 toiletries and cosmetics. They are made by companies ranging from the big chemicals giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, and supermarket chains such as Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks and Spencer, to high-end cosmetics firms such as Clarins and L'Oréal.
Professor Callum Roberts of the University of York told The IoS last night: "As plastics fragment into smaller pieces, they concentrate toxins. Microbeads are highly potent concentrators, feeding toxins into plankton at the bottom of the food web.
Read the whole exclusive article at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/scienc...91412.html