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Next pollutant worry: plastic microbeads

Jan. 25, 2014 at 5:10 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Scientists in California are studying the effect of pollution in a tiny form -- plastic beads no larger than a salt grain found in numerous common products.

Marcus Eriksen of the non-profit 5 Gyres Institute said it took him less than 10 minutes with a small mesh net to find hundreds of the microbeads floating in the Los Angeles River. The beads, made of polyethylene and polypropylene, can be found in everything from facial cleansers to laundry detergent and other plastics.

Given their size the problem might be easy to overlook, Eriksen said. But the microbeads are absorbant, meaning they soak up pollutants as they're washed out to sea. Once there, they remain suspended in water and enter the food chain, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

"The scary thing is that the beads sponge up toxins, then get consumed by organisms from shellfish to crabs to fish" later eaten by humans, he said.

The group has begun petitioning companies to eliminate use of the non-biodegradable plastics and replace them with other natural items such as ground apricot pits.

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