What are Microbeads?
Microbeads are man-made solid plastic particles of less than one millimeter in their largest dimension. They are commercially available in particle sizes of 10 micrometers to 1 micrometer. That would be the equivalent of 0.00039 inches to 0.039 inches so they are very small and may be hard to detect except with a microscope. They have low melting temperatures and can change phase from solid to liquid on your face and very fast in hot water. They are commonly made of polyethylene but they can be polypropylene or even worse polystyrene. Many are familiar with the dangers of polystyrene.
Microbeads are frequently used in the most common cosmetic products including toothpaste, deodorant, face and body cleansers and exfoliants. Exfoliants are used as body scrubs to remove dry, dead surface cells from the body. They are also used to unclog pores and make skin glow. In other words, many consumers value microbeads for their ability to produce clean, smooth skin, but at what price?
Microbeads can also make up to 10% of the content of some common household cleaning products, textiles, special paper, and paints, and many other products. In some cases, microbeads may not even be listed on the label.
So why should you and I be concerned? Even though these ingredients make up a very tiny fraction of plastic litter in waterways, they are polluting our freshwater and even the world's oceans. Microbeads are thought to be pretty harmless by some when used directly, but issues arise once they are washed down the drain. They are so small that they can make it through most water and wastewater treatment plants that don't have filter systems designed to catch such minuscule particles.
These microbeads are designed to go down the drain and eventually into our lakes, rivers, and oceans — by the billions every day. These tiny microbeads absorb toxins that are in the water, are eaten by marine life. The balance of whole ecosystems can be affected. When we eat the fish and other marine life, they can make their way up the food chain all the way to our dinner plates.
Health Effects of Microbeads
Once ingested by humans, they can cause gut blockage, physical injury, changes in oxygen levels in cells in the body, altered appetite and reduced energy levels, which impacts growth and reproduction. The biggest threat may be that these particles can also act as carriers by absorbing and concentrating chemicals present in the environment that is persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic, known as PBT compounds. This means, on top of harm caused by the micro-plastic particle itself, harmful chemicals can be carried and released inside the body. Additionally, the polymers that make up the micro-plastics contain chemical additives such as plasticizers, flame retardants and antimicrobial agents, which could leach out of the plastic and into the environment or into our bodies. At present, it isn’t possible to say which poses the biggest threat. Much needs to be studied.
Listed below you will find a number of possible fates for the microbeads and other microplastics that enter our body. We won't know for sure whether they are true until scientists perform more precise and appropriate research.
- Microplastic particles may leave our bodies without being absorbed or without releasing their chemical cargo.
- They may be absorbed but may be quickly broken down or eliminated before they have time to harm us.
- They may be absorbed but then encapsulated so that they don't hurt the body.
- The particles or the chemicals that they carry may not be sufficiently concentrated to hurt us even if they are absorbed.
- The particles or their cargo may be hurting us.
- The particles may not be hurting us yet, but they may do so if they become more concentrated.
Research on the possibilities above is being carried on to study all of the potential health effects of the chain of events previously described. There is already mounting evidence that microbeads are harmful not only to human health but also the health of other animals. Because of this kind of evidence, they have been banned as of January 1, 2018, but sales can continue through July 1, 2018. Microbeads in natural health products and non-prescription drugs will also be banned in 2019.
The personal care products industry itself announced a voluntary phase-out of microbeads and then worked with elected officials, environmental advocacy groups, and health officials to support laws that permanently ban them. It is encouraging that some of the companies that have previously used plastic microbeads are looking at the possibility of replacing them with alternatives, such as those made from beeswax, rice bran, tapioca, wax, starches derived from corn, and carnauba, seaweed, silica, clay and other natural compounds. These alternatives would most certainly be healthier than the plastic microbeads.
Microbeads & Distillation Systems
Fortunately, microbeads can be removed from tap water via Pure Water Distillers. Distillation removes 99.9% of known and unknown contaminants from water. Modeled after the hydrologic cycle, distillation is a natural process by which water is heated causing evaporation and is then condensed and collected into a glass jar or stainless steel storage tank. In addition to this, Pure Water Distillers use a post filter to remove VOCs. There is no finer way to get fresh clean drinking water than using the Pure Water Distillation System.