"For decades, water quality professionals have faced the challenge of controlling a variety of conventional and nonconventional pollutants (e.g., nutrients and suspended solids, oil and grease) and toxic chemical compounds that can harm aquatic life in lakes, streams, and coastal waters, as well as public health. Microbeads are contaminants of recent and growing concern. Microbeads are synthetic particles made of either polyethylene or polypropylene plastic. They are used as abrasives and exfoliants in hundreds of consumer and personal care products such as facial scrubs, shampoos and soaps, lip gloss, deodorants, and toothpaste. The particles are tiny--between 50 and 500 micrometers in diameter (the latter is about the size of the period on a printed page), and a single product can contain hundreds of thousands of microbeads. A number of companies are voluntarily removing microbeads from their products, and some states--eight so far--have passed laws to ban manufacture and sale of products with microbeads. At issue is whether federal regulation to control or ban microbeads is needed. […] Microplastic debris includes microbeads and small particles that result from the breakdown of plastic bottles and other containers. In the aquatic environment, marine mammals, birds, and fish and shellfish cannot distinguish microplastics from food. Once in the food chain, microbeads may threaten aquatic life and public health, but risks are not well understood. The particles themselves may contain toxins. Other toxins in waters, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, are attracted to microbeads, which can act like sponges, absorbing the chemicals and potentially adding to environmental concerns. Particles that enter water supply systems are not removed by drinking-water treatment technologies."
CRS Insight, IN10319