Environmental expert slams war on personal care microbeads

By Simon Pitman contact

- Last updated on GMT

Environmental expert slams war on personal care microbeads

Related tags: Pollution, Environmentalism, Great lakes

Further research carried out at the University of Michigan into the possible pollution effects of microbeads in waters in the Great Lakes have demonstrated a vastly different outcome.

Previously a number of scientific studies have underlined the ill-effects microbeads are having on marine-life worldwide, but in an open letter to the Detroit News​, titled ‘Time to end the environmentalist war on face wash’, G. Allen Burton Jr., University of Michigan professor in the School of Natural Resources & Environment is claiming that his team's latest research can find no such evidence.

“But if environmentalists and lawmakers are trying to clean our water, protect marine life, and make fish safer for human consumption, their campaigns and legislative efforts have been a huge waste of time and taxpayer money,”​ Burton writes in the article.

Where's the evidence?

So where is the evidence to make this drastic claim that flies in the face of previous science and the significant investment that has been made to introduce regulations to outlaw microbeads, both in the US and overseas?

Burton says that his team’s research focused on Lakes Huron and Erie - a region that has been recorded as having some of the highest levels of microbead pollution in the world. During the study scientists cut apart and examined 145 fish to examine them for evidence of microbead pollution.

And the findings? According to Burton, “Not one contained a microbead of plastic, Not one.”

Two points validate the claim

Burton believes there are two principle reasons why fresh water fish are not consuming microbeads in their diet.

The first is that the university’s research found that even the most polluted sites only had a relatively tiny 1 – 3 microplastic particles per 300 to 700 liters of water. This is in stark contrast to the vast concentrations of microbeads cited by environmentalist campaigners which were found in water surfaces, where fish do not feed.

The second factor, Burton points out, is that fish eat what moves, which is why they focus on zooplanketon as the essential part of their diet, as opposed to the inanimate microbeads.

Burton claims that the big error in previous studies is that fish were placed in  laboratory tanks with artificially high levels of microbeads that were consequentially consumed by the fish because there was not enough availability of zooplankton.

Environmentalist "pick the wrong fight"

“Is there pollution in the water? Of course. But environmentalists have been picking the wrong fight,”​ wrote Burton.

Alternatively, Burton suggests that in the U.S. lawmakers, water treatment specialists should be focusing on improving water treatment facilities to reduce all manner of fine chemicals, promoting a greener infrastructure in cities and introduce greener farming methods that include a reduction in pesticides and chemical fertilzers.

Currently a federal ban, the Microbead-Free Waters Act, is in the pipeline to ban microbeads from consumer products by mid-2017.

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