Author: Melissa Multer

Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student, Melissa Multer, makes this connection here…

The news titled, “Ban on Microbeads Proves Easy to Pass Through Pipeline” was reported by The New York Times in their December 22, 2015 online news. This news relates to the WRE hydrology as microbeads slip through wastewater treatment systems and into water ways as they are too small to be stopped by any filter or screen. This specific issue relates to the movement of water. In summary, this article reports on the recent bill that was passed through the congress and senate banning microbeads most commonly found in in beauty and health products. This law will require that companies stop using the beads in their products by July 2017. Microbeads have become a huge issue in many waterways, and it is estimated that 11 billion microbeads are released in waterways each day. Although the beads are not considered toxic, they attract harmful chemicals which adhere to their surface. Marine life consumes these beads with the chemicals and they then travel up the food chain. This is a step in the right direction, but it should be known that much more needs to be done to lower the amount of plastic that enters waterways each year. Based on my understanding of water resources and engineering the WRE facts in the news are accurate, as I show from the following sources. Rochman (2015) states how banning microbeads from products that enter wastewater systems will protect water quality and wild life. Schneiderman (2015) explains the research done to find the direct relationship between microbeads and pollution. Based on critical thinking of this story I think that the article has failed to show in how companies affected by this ban can change their formula naturally using natural exfoliates such as sugar, salt, and coffee grounds.

Water resources engineering affects many other context areas. This particular issue impacts environmental and economic context areas. These are defined as follows: the environmental context relates to the environmental impact the issue has and the economic context relates to the monetary impact on society and the government. Based on the article microbeads impact the environment by causing chemicals to adhere to them which gets transferred to the water. The microbeads ban will also impact economics as it will lead to a change in many products possibly causing the prices of these products to increase. I found that the environmental impact is also reported by Bruggers (2016), which entails the threat of microbeads being consumed by aquatic wildlife. The cause and effect between microbeads and the environment is that chemicals adhere to microbeads which are then consumed by fish and thereon travel up the food chain and transport chemicals.



Figure 1: A sample of microbeads and other tiny plastic particles taken from Lake Ontario. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 sailed through Congress in an age when most legislation plods.


Figure 2: Samples of microbeads shown from different facial and body products.

Original Article:



Schwartz, J. Ban on Microbeads Proves Easy to Pass Through Pipelines. The New York Times. Published: Dec. 22, 2015.

Schneiderman, E.T. Unseen Threat: How Microbeads Harm New York Waters, Wildlife, Health, and Environment. New York Office of Attorney General. 2014.

Rochman, C.M., Kross, S.M., Armstrong, J.B., Bogan, M.T., Darling, E.S., Green, S.J., Smyth, A.R., Verissimo, D. Scientific Evidence Supports Ban on Microbeads. Environmental Science & Technology. 2015, 49 (18), pp 10759–10761, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03909

Bruggers, J. Are you Flushing Plastic into the Ohio River? Courier Journal. January 6, 2016.