Small Things Considered: Before and After

Still images of plastic microbeads, 100x magnification

Still images of plastic microbeads, 100x magnification

Still images of plastic microbeads, 100x magnification

Still images of plastic microbeads, 100x magnification

Enormous floating rafts of plastic debris in the oceans highlight the impact of plastic pollution, and rightly so, have attracted the focus of environmentalist and scientists alike.  However, more recently, the impact of the less visible side of plastic pollution is raising serious concern.

Plastic micro beads are widely used in toiletry products like facial scrubs and toothpastes. Unfortunately, they pass through sewage treatment plants and vast quantities of them enter into natural water courses. Concentrations of as much as 1.1 million fragments  of microplastics per square mile  have been found in some natural water courses. Here, fish and other aquatic organisms eat them along with any pollutants that they might carry. but these micro fragments of plastic do not just mimic food and they can also cause physical damage to many organisms. Here is a short experiment in which the elegant microorganism Volvox aureus is exposed to a suspension of plastic microbeads , with devastating impact!

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