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Environment Canada to study dangers of plastic microbeads, NDP calls for ban


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March 27, 2015 by Canadian Plastics

Environment Canada is studying the perils posed to wildlife and the environment by the plastic microbeads found in shower gels, toothpaste and facial scrubs.

The findings of the study will determine a federal-provincial action plan on the tiny beads, Colin Carrie, the parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, has told the House of Commons. “The chemical management plan brought forth by our government will prioritize microbeads for assessment, which will benefit all Canadians,” Carrie said in a March 23 speech to the House of Commons.

Microscopic plastic beads are found in cosmetics such as facial scrubs and body washes. The beads are too tiny to be captured by water treatment plants, and can end up in wastewater streams. Uncontrolled, the particles flow into waterways and the Great Lakes, where they can accumulate with other larger pieces of plastic debris which can also break down over time into microscopic pieces through abrasion.

Environment Canada researchers say the beads and microscopic plastic act like sponges for some pollutants. They can persist for 1,000 years and are ingested by aquatic organisms like fish and shellfish.

In a related development, the NDP has introduced a motion calling for a ban on the microbeads. The NDP also wants the federal government to list microbeads as a potential toxic substance.

Health Canada says the beads are safe for use in cosmetics and food. But environmental groups contend that the trouble starts when the beads are washed down the drain.