If you buy a certain brand of toothpaste, it has little plastic pieces in it – put there on purpose.
It even tells you on the label. Go to the little “inactive ingredients” text on the side of the box, and you will find the word “polyethylene”.
About 18 months ago, the general public began to be aware of this when dentists and dental hygienists found little pieces of plastic stuck in patients’ infected or swollen gums. The original concern was that the plastic bits were causing harm to patients. Since that time, a bigger concern has begun emerging.
After brushing your teeth, those little plastic bits go down the drain, and into the sewage treatment plant – which was never designed to filter them out. They find their way into rivers, lakes and oceans. New York State found that 19 tons go down the drain each year in that state alone.
For business reasons, plastic has been introduced to hundreds of other kinds of face cleaners, foot care products and other intimate personal care products. (You can find a list at www.beat
themicrobead.org). Sometimes the kind of plastic varies, so you will find words like polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) on the box.
Once in the water, the little plastic bits do two things. First, since they were designed to attract and hold chemicals used in cleaning the body, they also absorb and become carriers and concentrators of toxic chemicals already in the water. Then, since they look a lot like fish eggs, these little toxic concentrations get eaten by little fish, and the little fish get eaten by bigger fish, and so on.
And as an act of love we grandpas take our grandkids and teach them to catch, clean and eat these same fish.
Because they are “inactive ingredients,” they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration – that job is left to the manufacturer. The EPA also cannot regulate them due to restrictions placed on that agency by Congress. (A federal bill is slowly making its way through committee to change this specific set of handcuffs, with an effective date if passed of 2020).
Starting with Illinois in 2014, several states have grown impatient with the lack of federal action and passed their own laws. Here in North Carolina, a bill was introduced in 2015 to forbid the use of microbeads, but has not been allowed to move forward by the current leadership.
Plastic in toothpaste is a good case study of how distorted our political dialogue has become.
One side argues against government regulation of private business – calling it “job killing” and arguing that regulation raises prices to consumers. The other parties in the discussion are outraged that unsuspecting people will be applying plastic to intimate parts of their body, introducing it into waterways, and creating fish dangerous to eat in the name of being “business friendly.”
I have no doubt that a serious study of government regulations would uncover some (or even many) rules that are obsolete, clumsy and/or badly written. I also believe very much in the benefits of capitalism – but that some regulation is in order.
Until reasonable people make both of those things happen, you can protect yourself and your family by doing two things. You can download a free app for your smartphone that reads a product’s bar code. It will tell you if the product has plastic in it. Go to “get.beatthemicrobead.org” to download. And you can contact legislators and have them stop companies from adding plastics to things you and your kids put in their mouths.
Francis Koster is a Kannapolis-based writer and founder of www.The