More microplastic research, regulation needed says wildlife federation

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has launched an online petition urging the federal government to do more to keep plastic out of Canada’s fresh water.

'We need government to recognize the larger and growing issue of microplastics'

In June, the federal government officially listed microbeads as a toxic substance, giving it the ability to ban the plastic beads used in cleansers. (Carolyn Box/Associated Press)

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has launched an online petition urging the federal government to do more to keep plastic out of Canada's fresh water.

While the organization applauds Ottawa's decision to designate plastic microbeads a toxic substance and take steps to ban them from use in cosmetic and personal care products in Canada, it wants more regulation and more research funding spent to examine the issue.

The CFW called the government's decision on microbeads "an important first step" in keeping plastic out of Canadian waterways but said "there are still many other sources of microplastics polluting our waters."

"This is just the beginning of the actions needed to keep our environment and wildlife safe from microplastics," the CWF says in an open letter to Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna. "We need government to recognize the larger and growing issue of microplastics and to establish immediate funding resources for science and research to determine the impact of microbead pollution.

The federation claims the effects of plastic in water aren't "fully understood by science today."

"This research and science is necessary to establish the extent of the harm to our waters," the CWF says.

In June, the federal government officially listed microbeads as a toxic substance, giving it the ability to ban the plastic beads used in cleansers.

It says the tiny plastic beads commonly found in facial and body scrubs is now listed as a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act, which gives the government the option to control their use or institute an outright ban.

But microbeads are already on the way out.

Ottawa says of the 14 companies that make up the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association — the heaviest users of microbeads in Canada — five have already stopped using microbeads in their products and nine more will follow suit by 2018 or 2019.

Scientists have been raising the alarm about the huge amounts of plastic that have been entering marine systems, and ending up in the most remote ocean areas.

In a new study Dr. Oona Lönnstedt, a marine biologist in the Department of  Ecology and Genetics at Uppsala University in Sweden, investigated what impact one common plastic, polystyrene, has on juvenile fish.

She found that larval perch were affected by plastic, both physically and chemically, in several ways.  Egg hatching was less successful in the presence of plastic, and larval fish seemed attracted to it, consuming it in preference over their normal food of zooplankton. 

Plastic also seemed to affect fish behaviour, making them less active, and causing them to ignore the chemical cues that trigger their predator avoidance behaviours.

"Plastic never really goes away it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. So small the naked eye can't see it," the CWF says on its website.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation didn't immediately respond to questions emailed by CBC.

With files from Canadian Press and CBC's Quirks and Quarks