The House Just Voted to Ban Those Tiny Pieces of Plastic in Your Toothpaste | Mother Jones

A sample of microbeads collected in Lake Erie 

Yesterday, the US House of Representatives voted to phase out microbeads, the little pieces of plastic that act as exfoliants in personal-care products ranging fromface wash to toothpaste. The bill, which was introduced last year by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), would ban the use of synthetic microplastics in cosmetics by 2018. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced companion legislation in May.

Environmental advocates have expressed concern for years over the beads, which are so small that they aren't caught in water treatment plants. There are roughly 300,000 microbeads in a single tube of face wash; by some estimates, Americans dump roughly 300 tons of the beads per year into US waterways. The microplastics, which serve as a sponge for toxins, are frequently confused by fish as food and make their way up the food chain—they've turned up in tuna and swordfish.

Several states have enacted microbead bans, starting with Illinois in 2014. California passed the strictest legislation yet in October this year, banning both synthetic and biodegradable plastics. (Many experts argue that there is no such thing as plastic that can biodegrade in ocean conditions.) If it becomes law, the national legislation, which only focuses on synthetic plastics, would supersede these state bans.

Here are a few products with and without the plastic beads. If you're curious about a product you use, look for polyethylene on the ingredient list.

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87% of Earth's population lives where the air is toxic

Air pollution in China is getting a lot of press in recent times, especially with sad milestones like the first-ever smog 'Red Alert' in Beijing, but breathing clean air isn't just a dream for the Chinese. A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology confirms, once again, sadly, that exposure to ambient air pollution is a global health crisis.

The researchers looked at areas where concentrations of tiny particulate matter in the air (PM2.5) exceeds limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). By overlaying these areas (which you can see on the map below) with population density maps, they found that 87% of the world's population lived in areas where the air is worse than what should be permitted according to WHO guidelines (using 2013 data, as it takes a while to gather global stats). China and India are in particularly bad shape, 0.4% of people in China and 0.01% in India living in areas meeting WHO levels.

Air quality map ACS ESTACS/Promo image

Between 1990 and 2013, global population-weighted PM2.5 increased by 20.4%. In other words, the average person on Earth in 2013 was exposed to 1/5 more PM2.5 than in 1990. This was mostly driven by pollution increases in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China.

But averages can be misleading, like with the man who drowned crossing a river that was just 3 feet deep on average... In richer countries, decreases in population-weighted concentrations of PM2.5 could be found. As you can see on the map, most of North-America isn't doing too bad on PM2.5 (though that doesn't mean that there's not air pollution or that things can't be even better.

The researchers also look at population-weighted concentrations of ozone pollution: Between 1990 and 2013, there was a global increase of 8.9%, with increases in most countries, except for some modest reductions in North America, parts of Europe, and several countries in Southeast Asia.

Here are some highlights from the findings:

"The highest concentrations of PM2.5 were evident in northern Africa and the Middle East due to emissions of windblown mineral dust; and in South and East Asia—especially in northern India and eastern China—due to combustion emissions from multiple sources including household solid fuel use, coal fired power plant emissions, landscape fires, industrial and transportation-related emissions."

"35% of global population resided in areas with concentrations above the WHO Interim Target 1 of 35 μg/m3 annual average PM2.5 with nearly all of the most extreme (>65 μg/m3) concentrations experienced by populations in China and India."

"Large relative increases [in estimated PM2.5 concentrations] were apparent in Western Canada, parts of South America, the Middle East, India and China. Somewhat similar patterns were also evident for ozone."

Ship with smokeWikimedia/Public Domain

Via Environmental Science & TechnologyGCG