Conservation groups ask Canada to classify microbeads “toxic”

Toronto – A group of conservation organizations, represented by counsel at Ecojustice, have submitted a formal request to Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, asking the government to place microbeads on the Priority Substances List.

The request, from Environmental Defence, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Ottawa Riverkeeper, would prompt a review on a priority basis of whether microbeads should be classified as a toxic substance.

Millions of tiny plastic particles are flushed into Canadian waters each day. Measuring less than 5 mm in diameter but generally around 0.5 mm, microbeads are found in soaps, facial scrubs, and toothpaste. The tiny beads are too small for wastewater treatment plants to remove, so they end up in lakes, rivers and oceans instead.

“We need to do something about the growing problem of microbeads building up in our waterways and lakes,” Nancy Goucher, Water Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “Various U.S. states are already proposing bans, several large cosmetics companies are voluntarily doing phase-outs, and there are plenty of safe alternatives available. It’s time for Canada to take action as well.”

Once in the environment, microbeads can destroy habitat, cause fish to starve, and absorb dangerous toxic chemicals. Classifying microbeads as a “toxic substance” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999) gives the federal government the authority to control their use, including instituting a ban on the use of microbeads in consumer products.

As public outcry against microbeads builds momentum, major manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to discontinue the use of microbeads.

“Not only do these tiny pieces of plastic pose a threat to iconic water bodies like the Great Lakes, effective and widely available biodegradable alternatives render them completely unnecessary,” says Liat Podolsky, Ecojustice staff scientist. “It is time for Canada to regulate microbeads like the toxic substance they are.”

While an increasing number of U.S. states and the Province of Ontario are working to ban microbeads, Canada’s federal government has yet to make a move.

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