Canada one step closer to banning microbeads

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The Canadian government is one step closer to banning microbeads n personal care products – a step the government says is in the direction of continuing to protect Canadian families and the environment from the risks of harmful chemicals.

Microbeads are used in a range of applications including personal care products such as skin care lotions, cosmetics, toothpastes, shampoos, exfoliating creams and certain over-the-counter drugs. They are helpful in exfoliating and cleansing or are used in cosmetic products to provide a particular feel or finish.

If microbeads are used directly they are harmless, but they often make their way into the environment when the products that contain them are washed down household drains. Through these they may eventually end up in a river or a lake or the ocean and are often consumed by marine animals including fish. Microbeads harm fish and also pose a risk to us if they end up in the food chain.

Microbeads have also been pegged as a major pollutant in lakes and other bodies of water. Researchers have already found very high concentrations of micro-plastics in The Great Lakes in Canada. According to study published in April, the highest abundance measured was 466,000 particles/km2 with an average of 43,000 particles/km2 throughout all the samples. The highest concentrations of micro-plastics were observed in Lake Erie, and accounted for about 90 per cent of the total plastics found.

The Government of Canada in collaboration with Environment Canada and Health Canada has developed the country’s Chemicals Management Plan under which it seeks to address the release of microbeads into the environment. The government pegs the Chemicals Management Plan as an important initiative that assesses chemicals used in Canada and takes action on those found to be harmful.

As a part of the Chemicals Management Plan, Environment Canada has already completed a thorough scientific review and analysis of over 130 scientific papers as well as consultations with experts, which will be published soon. According to the analysis, microbeads may pose a concern to the environment because they contribute to plastic litter in lakes and rivers, accumulating in the environment. The science summary concludes that microbeads are eco-toxic, though there is no evidence of human health concerns linked to the release of microbeads to the environment from personal care products.

Further, a proposed Order will be published as the first formal step towards adding microbeads to the List of Toxic Substances under CEPA, 1999. Adding microbeads to the List of Toxic substances is important because it provides the Government of Canada with the authority to regulate.