South Jersey Edition
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Brushing with Beads

A daily ritual that cleans teeth and keeps breath fresh could be wreaking havoc on our waterways and ocean. Toothpaste and other products have started popping up on store shelves containing microbeads, minuscule polyethylene “plastic” beads. These beads are being advertised as exfoliants in skin care products. In the case of toothpaste they are used as an abrasive.

The problem is these plastic microbeads found in toothpaste don’t dissolve before, during or after their use. This can cause serious problems to your health and our waterways. The health risks are due to the fact that a portion of the microbeads remains within the mouth and can become embedded underneath the gum line. Dentists around the country began to worry that these beads were causing more harm than good. During patient visits, dentists and hygienists found the microbeads stuck in crevices between the teeth and gums. This raised concerns because the beads could trap bacteria in the gums leading to gingivitis, and possibly overtime cause periodontal disease.

These beads are also polluting our waterways. Every time you brush your teeth, these tiny beads go down the drain and travel through sewers to a wastewater treatment plant. Due to their microscopic size, microbeads are far too small to be filtered by wastewater treatment facilities and as a result are discharged into waterways. A report released by the New York Attorney General’s office estimates that the state of New York discharges 19 tons of microbeads into its waterways annually.

This pollution caught the attention of advocacy groups and scientists, who have raised these concerns to elected officials. States, including New Jersey, began to tackle the issue by passing laws regulating microbeads. At the federal level, New Jersey’s Congressman Frank Pallone introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which prohibits the sale or distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. This bill quickly passed the House of Representatives, unanimously passed the Senate, and was recently signed into law by President Obama in December 2015.

Although microbeads are banned for the future, products containing microbeads will remain on the shelf until 2017. Until then it is up to you to be a conscious shopper. Read the ingredients list on boxes carefully—if you see polyethylene or polypropylene on the list of ingredients it means that product contains microbeads. Luckily, there are plenty of other natural alternatives to keep your breath fresh, your teeth white, and your waterways healthy. Happy brushing!

Nicole Dallara is communications and outreach coordinator for Clean Ocean Action. For more information, call 732-872-0111, email Outreach@CleanOceanAction.org or visit CleanOceanAction.org.

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