The National Green Tribunal recently issued notices to the Union health, environment and water resources ministries seeking their comments on what has been done to identify and curb the growing threat of ‘microbeads’.
Apart from being used in several personal care products, research studies showed presence of plastic microbeads in table salt also, which is one of the most basic ingredients used in cooking. It was also observed that the microbeads found in toothpaste can get stuck in our gums and lead to cancer. So let us have a closer look at ‘microbeads’ which are otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
# What are ‘Microbeads’ / ‘ Microplastics’ ?
Microbeads are plastic microspheres that are widely used in cosmetics as exfoliating agents and in personal care products such as toothpaste, as well as in biomedical and health science research. According to the UNEP, microplastics are the most harmful pollutants currently choking the oceans.
# What is all the fuss about these ‘beads’ ?
These microbeads flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads and that is the main reason why, ultimately, they contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads. These microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.
# What is the environmental fallout?
Microplastics have been found on almost every beach worldwide, on polar icecaps and just about everywhere in the oceans. Apart from creating ‘plastic islands’ in the oceans, when plastics break down, more toxic substances which are harmful to humans and which cause hormonal imbalances or neurological diseases are released.
Substantial quantities of microplastics in the ocean sink to the bottom. The amount of plastic on the ocean floor is 1000 times greater than the amount floating on the surface
# There is some concern regarding the use of microplastics in certain personal care products. Why?
- They may accumulate in the marine environment and release toxic substances.
- They may enter the food chain.
- They may cause diseases like cancer.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below.
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 1 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3