The Move to Ban Microbeads

Written by: Sam Hancock & Naomi Lai

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Personal hygiene is a multi-billion-dollar industry in North America. The global skin care market was worth an estimated $121 billion in 2016, and is expected to reach $175 billion by 2021. Manufacturers of body wash, lotion, toothpaste, acne care, and other beauty products keep creating newer and better products meant to keep us looking and feeling our best.

In 1972, microbeads were introduced and immediately praised for their exfoliating properties. Over the years they were added to hundreds of products and loved by consumers.

What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are tiny bits of polyethylene plastic. They are able to absorb large quantities of toxins, and their spherical shape makes them gentler on skin than other exfoliants. They can be found in all sorts of products from face wash to foot scrubs.

However, times have changed and microbeads aren’t exactly great for the environment. In fact, some countries including Canada, USA, UK and Ireland have pledged to ban the sale of all microbead-containing products within the coming year.

Why Ban Microbeads?


1.7 million plastic particles per square kilometer were recently found in Lake Erie. This is a dangerously high level, especially for particles that are not going to break down any time soon.

Thousands of marine species have been ingesting these microbeads, and the toxins they absorb move through the food chain, not only effecting the aquatic eco system but humans too.

When you wash product containing microbeads down the drain, they are sent through water treatment facilities, where they don’t break down, and then find their way downstream into rivers and lakes. The great lakes region of Canada and the United States has been of significant concern, as the concentration of microbeads has resulted in very high plastic particle water pollution. Greenpeace has referred to these particles as a toxic time bomb.

What is Anyone Doing About It?

The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (USA) aims to phase out the use of microbeads in rinse off cosmetics by July 2017. Similarly, the Canadian government will put a moratorium on both the manufacturing and importing of products containing microbeads, and outlawing the sale of them effective mid-2018. Canada has already added microbeads to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as a toxic substance. Additionally, most Canadian manufacturers have already committed to voluntarily phasing them out of their products.

What can YOU do about microbeads?

What about the cleansing benefits that will be lost with the extinction of microbeads?

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Don’t worry! A great number of alternatives exist, and they're just as capable of keeping your skin soft while being softer on the environment, too. Products rich in fruit enzymes and slight acids (like apricot and papaya) are great substitutions, and they’re easy to find! There are many companies that offer 100% natural exfoliants that can be found at your local drug store. You can check out reviews for natural exfoliant products here.

Additionally, products high in Vitamin C are known to be skin brighteners and produce collagen, which make them a multifaceted option. Lesser known substitutes include Rhassoul mud and rice flour for the body, which are 100% biodegradable and possess scrubbing qualities needed for proper exfoliation. Or, get creative and try making your own!

Using natural products and saying no to microbeads doesn’t just benefit the environment, it benefits your skin, too.

Asbestos Man

Written by Sam Hancock

Summer’s here and our multiplexes are besieged once again with superhero movies. It doesn’t matter who they battle, because nothing can stop our favourite heroes and heroines.

But without a proper super-villain, a superhero doesn’t have much purpose. The serious-minded Batman has the insanity of the Joker and the Riddler to keep him occupied. The invincible Superman has the ingenious Lex Luthor with whom he can match wits. Spiderman has Doc Octopus because… well, because they both take their cues from 8-legged critters.

Then there’s the Human Torch - a hero who can flame on like no one’s business. The Human Torch is a Marvel character whose first incarnation in 1939 was as a human-looking android, but was later reimagined by the legendary Stan Lee as part of the more renowned Fantastic Four. Lee’s Human Torch is Johnny Storm, a human-mutant who can control and absorb fire as his superpower.

Android or human-mutant, any do-gooder who uses fire as their superpower obviously needs to spar with a super-villain who can either dampen his flames or resist them somehow… If only there was some fire-resistant material that is evil in its own way… If only…

During the first golden age of comic books from the 1940s to 1960s, Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man both used asbestos – often referred to as the “magic mineral” – to commit their crimes.

Asbestos had been around for a long time, but it only became a gold-mine for Canada when it was discovered in Quebec in the 1870s. Until later in the 20th century, little was known about the health dangers of asbestos.

Asbestos was used in everything from coffee pots to insulation to brake pads. It was affordable, it was durable, but most importantly, it was a great way to protect against fire and heat. However, even as early as the 1920s, there were rumblings that asbestos miners were getting sick from “dust disease of the lungs.” And yet, who was willing to give up such a lucrative industry that brought billions to Canada’s economy each year?

At the same time, as the true impact of asbestos was becoming more widely known, the first golden age of comics was on the rise. Heroes in capes with superhuman abilities were suddenly tackling the eras social and moral fights, from gender equality to nuclear war. Comic book artists used comics to reflect and comment on what was currently happening in society and the world at large.

Enter Marvel’s Asbestos Lady in 1947. Victoria Murdock was a self-described “criminal scientist” who designed suits made from asbestos to protect her and her gang of crooks when they set off large explosions and fires near banks that only her suited-up gang could get near, allowing them to rob banks freely. Wanting to further exploit the criminal possibilities of asbestos, her gang kidnapped Fred Raymond, a scientist with expertise in the material’s dangers. Refusing to help Asbestos Lady, Fred was ultimately rescued by the Human Torch.

Angered by her failure to turn the scientists into criminals like herself, she eventually had her revenge by killing Fred, thus becoming the Human Torch’s permanent nemesis. However, asbestos was her true nemesis and it was later revealed that she had gotten cancer from her prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Then in 1963, Marvel introduced Asbestos Man. Another criminal scientist, Professor Orson Kasloff was an unrepentant egomaniac who felt everyone should bow to his scientific genius. To show the underworld who was boss, he developed an arsenal of asbestos-laden garb and weaponry to battle Johnny Storm’s Torch.

Surprised and defeated by Asbestos Man on their first encounter, the Torch returned to turn up the heat with a fire so intense that Asbestos Man had to give up before he passed out from lack of oxygen. Although fire proofed, Asbestos Man proved all too immune to the Torch's heat and was easily defeated.

Ironically, years later, an older Asbestos Man shows up toting an oxygen tank to rob a store. He tells the cashier to ignore the tank, “I’m a cancer survivor.” But the cashier isn’t afraid of Asbestos Man or his tank, she’s terrified of his asbestos-lined suit. When the heroes finally show up, no one wants to touch Asbestos Man’s suit, and a hazmat team is finally called in to properly remediate the scene.

Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man come from a time when the significant dangers associated with asbestos exposure weren’t as well known, and cover-ups were rampant. However, It’s a fitting end that both Asbestos Man and Asbestos Lady were done in by the same “magic material” that allowed them to live a life of crime. They ultimately ended up not only on the wrong side of the law, but also on the wrong side of science and history.



Happy Birthday Canada!

Written by Naomi Lai

In honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial, let’s take this opportunity to explore the evolution of health and safety in the workplace since Confederation.
A lot has changed since the birth of the Great White North – from labour laws and standard safety precautions, to popular building materials and healthcare research. Canada has made leaps and bounds towards creating a country - and a world - where occupational health and safety is a priority for workers and employers.

When the British North America Act, 1867 was signed making Canada an independent country, health and safety for workers was not a priority. Some health legislation was included in the act that vaguely outlined the responsibility of both the federal and provincial governments.

But since 1988, there has been a nationwide requirement for employees to follow Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) regulations. This has dramatically increased workplace safety, and now each province has their own specific guidelines, like Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Let’s look at some important health and safety milestones since Canada’s founding:

1867 – The British North America Act is signed, but contains few regulations regarding               health and safety in Canada’s workplaces.

1876 – Chrysotile asbestos is found in Quebec and large-scale mining begins.

1889 – The Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital is created, who                   acknowledge that a significant number of workers are being injured across                     many different industries. The Commission provides recommendations for                         improvements.

1914 – The Ontario Workmen’s Compensation Act is implemented, making Ontario the              first province to offer compensation to injured employees regardless of                              responsibility in the incidents.

1948 – Canada assists in founding The World Health Organization, and Ontario’s Dr.                   Brock Chisholm is elected Director-General.

1971 – Saskatchewan implements the Occupational Health Act that makes health and                safety the shared responsibility of both employers and employees. Three major                rights are granted to workers: the right to know about hazards in the workplace,                the right to participate in a workplace committee dedicated to health and safety                issues, and the right to refuse unsafe work.

1978 – Following Saskatchewan’s lead, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act is             passed.

1978 – The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is created, and states                 that all Canadians have “…a fundamental right to a healthy and safe working                   environment”.

1988 – Canada establishes WHMIS as the national standard for health and safety in the               workplace.

1996 – Health Canada is founded and assumes responsibility for public health on a                     national scale.

2011 – The last of Canada’s asbestos mines cease operations in Quebec.

2017 – The federal government moves forward with their pledge to ban asbestos by                     2018.

Canada has an interesting history when it comes to asbestos. In 1876, chrysotile asbestos was found in Quebec, and the world’s largest asbestos mine was quickly established. For years, the material was used in products like brake lining and cement pipes, but mainly as a means of fire resistant insulation.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that asbestos was proven to be a cause of serious illnesses like mesothelioma, creating an uproar of concern in the construction industry. Now, testing and safe asbestos removal procedures are available, and awareness of the dangers of exposure are widespread.

The asbestos mining industry in Canada came to an end in 2011 with the closing of the last mines in Quebec. Asbestos is now banned in 50 countries around the world, and Canada is set to join the growing list by 2018.

There is no doubt that health and safety has come a long way in 150 years, yet workplace injuries and fatalities still occur. Extensive research and technology has uncovered important information about occupational health and safety that was not available in 1867. Since then, workplace health and safety education has become more accessible, ultimately leading to safer working environments for Canadians.

Together, we can continue to make great strides towards a safer work environment for all.                                                                    

Bare Paws: Mass Migration or a World Without Polar Bears

Written by Naomi Lai

The majestic polar bear, the world’s largest land carnivore and Arctic icon, could soon become extinct due to climate change. Its natural territory stretches across the tundra of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Russia, which are now experiencing rising sea levels and a reduction of ice floats. This is where the animals live, raise their young and hunt for food. Without this habitat to thrive in, the wild global population has already dropped and is estimated to be as low as 22,000. If this continues, the polar bear is in serious danger of extinction within the next few decades. Some environmentalists have therefore proposed an unusual solution: relocate the species to the southern hemisphere.

Could it Work?  

The northern hemisphere is poised to become 2 degrees warmer by 2050, which would lead to mass ecological change, and is expected to destroy the polar bear’s natural habitat. By contrast, the uninhabited southernmost continent of Antarctica is a vastly unspoiled; shielded from the encroachment of ozone depletion and greenhouse gases that human industrialism has created. Currently, the only land animals to exist in Antarctica are several species of penguin. This isolation away from predators has allowed them to flourish, with colony populations in the millions. With such an abundance of food, it may seem that the polar bear would fit right into this new habitat. However, there are inherent risks. Infiltration of a foreign species into a new ecosystem brings the risk of the endemic inhabitants being wiped out; potentially creating a larger issue than what is faced with the extinction of polar bears. While this may not happen immediately, penguin numbers would undoubtedly decline if polar bears overindulge, and in the absence of nourishment, the polar bear population would subsequently crash as well.

History repeating itself? / A Look Back / Tried and Tested

An example of this occurred in 1935, when Australia introduced the American cane toad to their island in an attempt to control the population of some beetle species. While the number of beetles did indeed decline, the cane toad simultaneously caused a series of other issues. Their poison is so harmful to other animals that many native frog populations have been depleted to the point of endangerment, and even household pets have suffered in some cases.
Similarly, the mongoose was brought from India to Hawaii in order to help control rats among the sugar cane fields in 1883. Again, this had a vastly negative impact on the rest of the ecosystem, and many species of insects, birds, and other animals saw a drastic drop in population.


The polar bear is uniquely adapted for its environment in the North Pole and may not make the transition to The South well. Polar bears eat a high fat diet and have physiological adaptations to permit them to process this sustenance. If polar bears were to become extinct or move locations, the number of inhabitants in walruses, seals, whales, reindeer, rodents, and birds would be affected too. The Arctic Circle does not have much vegetation to begin with so if there were no predators to diminish the herbivore populace, the vegetation would go to zero, in turn wiping out herbivores or compelling them to migrate to other habitats where they can survive.

What Can We Do?

So what can be done instead to try to save the species? Since 1972 environmental activism (mainly spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund) has sought to advocate for several measures governments can take on for the preservation of polar bears in their natural habitat. These include:

  • Protecting critical habitat
  • Reducing industrial impacts
  • Creating safer communities
  • Promoting sustainable tourism
  • Ensuring sustainable hunting
  • Supporting polar bear research

As of 2015, The WWF has pressured the five arctic nations that polar bears inhabit (Canada, USA, Norway, Greenland, and Russia) to formally recognize the need to act swiftly and curb the population decline through the Circumpolar Action Plan. WWF-Canada President and CEO David Miller has said: "The loss of sea ice due to climate change is affecting the survival of many Arctic species, including polar bears and their primary food source: ringed seals. Co-operation between states is crucial to slowing the effects of climate change, and WWF-Canada is pleased that a circumpolar action plan to protect this iconic Arctic species is now in place." With statements like these, Canada, being home to 65% of all remaining polar bears, seems to be making positive strives towards preservation and may be able to stem the tide of extinction yet.

While mass migration through human interference is backed with the best of intentions, it’s probably best to keep polar bears in their natural habitat, north of the 51st parallel. According to the WWF, the most salient way to keep the Arctic giant in the Arctic is to address climate change through the advancement of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, because the practice of drilling for oil affects the polar bear’s natural habitat. Therefore, the best way to help them and other endangered species is to minimize human encroachment upon their homes. Leaving the wild to be wild.