Tiny threats to the ocean Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries from facial scrubs to toothpastes are slipping through water treatment plants. Tiny plastic beads are turning up by the tens of millions in waterways. Scientists have worried about plastic debris in the oceans for decades, but recently, the question of smaller bits has gained attention, Plastics degrade so slowly and become coated with poisons in the water like the cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs. In recent months, major U.S. cosmetics companies have pledged to phase out the use of the beads in favor of natural alternatives, though they say the shift could take two years or more. In the North American Great Lakes concentrations of as much as 1.1 million bits of microplastics per square mile have been recorded. Sewage treatment plants are not designed to capture the tiny beads, which vary in size but are about as big as a dot on a newspaper page. The problem of the tiny beads is to limit their use and there are viable natural alternatives.

Microplastics in our food chain

Copepods were put in with fluorescent polystyrene beads measuring 7 to 30 micrometers in diameter. They confuses the plastic granules with food and ate them. Planktonic crabs and oysters also consumed these microplastics, part of the degraded remains of the many millions of tons of plastics that enter the water each year. They can remain in their intestinal tracts for up to one week if the zooplankton do not have access to actual food. There are concerns the plastics, and the toxins they attract are entering our food chain.