Canada declares microbeads toxic

Last week the federal government moved to list microbeads as a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act, thus giving the government power to ban the use of the microplastics (plastics smaller than five millimetres in size) in items such as body washes, cleansers and toothpastes.

According to Environment Canada, a substance is considered toxic if, “it is entering or may enter the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that: have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity; constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends; or constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”

The ban follows a motion posed last year by NDP MP Megan Leslie to see microplastics added to the list of toxic substances, with unanimous approval from all parties.

The Environment Canada notice also points out that five of the 14 companies belonging to the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association have already eliminated the use of microbeads from their products with nine more companies committed to end their use by the end of this decade.

In a 2011 Great Lakes survey of microplastics, Dr. Sherri Mason, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, was able to take 21 samples from three of the Great Lakes, eight of which came from Lake Huron. The samples taken closest to Manitoulin came from near St. Joseph Island, which also showed the largest amounts of plastics in Lake Huron—up to 5,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre.

Lake Superior had the smallest number of plastics in a sample, Lake Huron had more and Lake Erie had the most—up to 600,000 plastic particles per square kilometer in two of this lake’s samples.

These plastics are found in the food chain, as they are too small to be caught in wastewater treatment systems and end up in our lakes and river systems and into the stomachs of fish and birds. The long-term affects on microplastics on these animals is not yet known.

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