The majority of wastewater treatment equipment used today is unable to filter or remove microbeads, which ultimately get deposited into waterways as a pollutant.
Microbeads do not easily degrade, accumulating in waterways and potentially in drinking water. They make their way into rivers, lakes and oceans when treated wastewater is released into these bodies of water.
A study conducted by New York’s Office of the Attorney General in late 2014, titled “Discharging Microbeads to Our Waters: An Examination of Wastewater Treatment plants in New York,” detected microbeads in the effluent samples from 25 of the 34 treatment plants participating in this study, suggesting that microbeads are being discharged at the majority of treatment plants operating across New York State.” It is estimated that more than eight trillion microbeads are introduced into waterways in the United States each day, according to the American Chemical Society.
Once in the water, microbeads bio-accumulate. They are often mistaken for food, being ingested by zooplankton. These small marine creatures are then consumed by larger species such as fish, mussels and oysters and ultimately by humans. While polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene are generally non-toxic plastics there is little known about their toxicity at a micro size. Microbeads may bind with toxins like PCBs and other compounds because of the irregular shape and possibly static charge, releasing their harmful effects when ingested.The potential time and cost associated with retrofitting equipment to effectively eliminate microbeads from effluent wastewaters is significant. The consensus amongst environmental professionals is in order to eliminate microbeads from effluent water discharge, the source of the microbeads must be eliminated. This means removing microbeads from personal hygiene products.