LIST: 10 things to know about microbeads and the Great Lakes

Tiny bits of news about these tiny pieces of plastic

Mason Eriksen, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2o13

These tiny bits of plastic were in the news as 2015 came to a close, and for good reason.

Found to be a growing pollution concern in the Great Lakes, legislation to ban microbeads made its way fairly quickly through the US House and Senate in December to ultimately be signed by President Obama December 28.

Here are 10 important facts about microbeads.


  • Microbeads are synthetic plastic particles commonly used as abrasives in soaps and facial cleansers.
  • Researchers have found plastic pollution including microbeads in marine and freshwater environments. “They have emerged as one of the more troubling forms of pollution for fish and wildlife throughout the world,” wrote Tom Henry of The Toledo Blade recently.
  • A 2012 New York study of microplastics in the Great Lakes found an average of 43,000 microplastic particles per square mile. At one sample location near Cleveland, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania, they found 466,000 particles in a square kilometer.
  • A ban on microbeads moved fairly quickly through the legislative process in December 2015. On December 8, the U.S. House has OK’d legislation that would ban microbeads in cosmetic products starting in 2018. The U.S. Senate approved it December 18. The President signed it December 28.
  • Ohio and Michigan are currently considering similar state legislation. Illinois was the first state to ban the sale of microbeads products in 2014.
  • In Northeast Ohio, wastewater treatment plants do capture a majority but not all of the microbeads that come into our system; microbeads are removed within the separation of grease and sludge, the solid material that floats on or settles out of the wastewater.
  • Microbeads that remain in the wastewater are too small to capture. These partials range between .125 mm and .355 mm in size, which is equivalent to something between the thickness of a sheet of paper and a thickness of a penny.
  • In Northeast Ohio, we see microbeads as an environmental issue and continue doing all we can to help remove them from the water we treat. Which is why we believe legislation is a good first step.
  • We continue to research the effectiveness our treatment processes have on removing the microbeads. In 2014, our organization agreed to partner with researchers from Cleveland State University and New York University to study the amount of microbeads exiting the Westerly Wastewater Treatment Center.
Collecting flow data at Westerly plant, 2014
  • Not only did our organization help the researchers understand the existence and properties of Microbeads, but also identified the two existing processes involved in removing the majority of microbeads from the waste stream.

Written with the help of Operation & Maintenance Process Specialist Doug Dietzel