Αθανασία Βαρβαρέσου, Καθηγήτρια, Τμήμα Βιοϊατρικών Επιστημών, Πανεπιστήμιο Δυτικής Αττικής
Ευαγγελία Πρωτόπαπα, Καθηγήτρια, Τμήμα Βιοϊατρικών Επιστημών, Πανεπιστήμιο Δυτικής Αττικής
Ανδρέας Λάζαρης, Καθηγητής, Ιατρική Σχολή, Εθνικό και Καποδιστριακό Πανεπιστήμιο Αθήνας
Microbeads are solid primary microplastics beads with diameter of 5mm or less (< 5mm) which are added in rinse-off cosmetic products for cleansing. They are discarded after use to the sewage system and end up to sewage system plants, from where an enormous quantity may escape and end up in aquatic environments. There is no efficient recovery method after discarding, and simultaneously the required conditions to fully biodegrade do not exist in the environment, where they can persist for hundreds of years. Tiny organisms, like zooplankton or small fish ingest them accidentally because of their tiny size, or mistake them for their prey because of their buoyancy, while bivalves or sea plants absorb those that reach the sediment.
Microplastics effect on aquatic organisms is a relatively new field of research but with increased interest from scientists. Microplastics ingestion or absorption from organisms is correlated with mechanical stresses and starvation because of saturation. Furthermore it is proven that primary microplastics in certain circumstances may release dangerous additives, that were integrated in the preparation stage, and/or persistent organic pollutants absorbed from the environment. Microbeads are microplastics without known dangerous additives, results from research have proven that POP’s from microbeads may accumulate in the gastrointestinal tracts of species causing tissues damage.
Few studies have been conducted proving POP’s accumulation effect on senior predators via food chain. Despite the proven POP’s transfer from one level to another, results so far indicate that toxic effect is relatively low, since the largest part of microplastics is excreted almost directly to the environment and does not stay long enough to cause toxic reaction. Scientists are reassuring that there can be no toxic effects to humans since the remaining microplastics and their POPs are located mostly in the gastrointestinal tract of seafood which is removed before consumption. Bivalves are an exemption that are consumed entirely, but even if a man’s diet is comprised only from them, the toxic reaction is minimum.
Considering their proven presence in the environment affection aquatic organisms, and less likely possible human health effects, countries like United States, Canada, Taiwan, Korea and EU members like Italy, France and United Kingdom introduced bans that are already in force or are coming into force the next years. Simultaneously non-government organizations (NGOs), associations of cosmetic industries, environmental protection agencies and actions pressed cosmetic industries to phase out microbeads. Most large industries have responded to the phase out call and announced that they are using already alternatives or are reformulating their products excluding microbeads. It is considered that microbeads presence in European markets is currently extremely low and until 2020 will seize to exist.
Present study’s effort was to record as many scrubs that were marketed in Greece from Greek cosmetic industries, considering that most of them have already followed phase out, despite the fact that there is no national ban. A number of 201 face and body scrubs (n=201) from 56 companies (n=56) were retrieved and 21,9% of the products (n=44) contained microbeads corresponding to 35.7% of the companies (n=20). Scrubs with microbeads contained mainly polyethylene (PE) (79,5%, n=35). Most products with microbeads were mixed products (81,82%, n=36), that contained both microbeads and synthetic biodegradable analogues or natural compounds for exfoliation. Microbeads were in higher quantity than analogues in mixed products. No significant deviations were observed between face and body scrubs considering microbeads content, as well as to the proportionate value between products with microbeads and products with alternative abrasives
Microbeads, Microplastics, Scrubs, POPs, Phase out, Toxicity, Environmental impact, Health, Food chain, Polyethylene