Environmental groups are concerned for the safety of both humans and wildlife as small plastic microbeads found in commonly used cosmetics have started to become significant pollutants in the Great Lakes.

Clean Wisconsin spokesperson Amanda Wegner said these microbeads can get into the water in many ways. They can also be found in other hygiene products besides cosmetics, like body wash, face wash and toothpaste.

Water treatment plants have difficulty filtering out these plastic beads, causing them to accumulate in the water.

Jared Teutsch, Alliance for the Great Lakes spokesperson, said sampling of water from the lakes that the group took last year contains high amounts of plastic, primarily from microbeads.

He said the beads can be deadly for local wildlife.

“A lot of organisms think they are a food item and consume them,” Teutsch said. “It causes premature and high mortality rate among those organisms.”

Fish in the lakes have especially suffered from the negative of effects of the microbeads. Many have tumors and other health-related issues, Teutsch said.

Wegner added that there is a high risk for people to be affected by the microbeads by ingesting the fish as well.

“These are little tiny microscopic pieces of plastic that can work their way up the food chain,” Wegner said. “As they get into smaller organisms in their wake, and then bigger fish eat them, and then eat them, it does start to bioaccumulate.”

The microbeads can also eventually wash up from the lakes and contaminate recreational areas and beaches, Teutsch said.

Wegner said as a result, some cosmetic manufacturers are considering whether they should discontinue the use of microbeads in their beauty and other care products.

“The industry is starting to shift already on this, and there are natural additives to personal care products that already exist in the marketplace,” Teutsch said.

Wegner said he recommends people look for more natural items when shopping for cosmetics.

He said consumers should look at the list of ingredients in their products and avoid using products that contain microbeads.

“It goes back to the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle,” Wegner said. “If you don’t need it, don’t use it and recycle your plastic whenever possible.”