Clean water is something all of us can agree is a good thing. And so is a clean face and body. However, these two things can sometimes be at odds.

In many of our soaps, lotions, toothpastes, scrubs, body washes and even medicines, little water-polluting monsters lurk. Plastic orbs, known as microbeads or microspheres, serve as additives to these and other personal care products. Some products can be made up of up to 10 per cent plastic microbeads. These additions exfoliate your skin, fill in your wrinkles, and serve to scratch that itch, leaving you feeling scrubbed and ready for the day.

Like the suds from your soap, microbeads wash down the drain, and in many places follow the pipes to the local wastewater treatment plant. Due to their small size, they flow right through the pipes and are discharged in treatment plant effluent to our waterways.

Microbeads, which are made of polyethylene, polystyrene, polypropylene and other plastics, are tiny, ranging from 10 to 1,000 micrometers. To give a sense of that micro-measurement, consider that one micrometer is 0.000039 inch.

Fish and marine life don’t distinguish them from foodstuffs and readily eat microbeads. From the lowest level of the sediments, microbeads work their way up through the food web from zooplankton through fish. Consumption of plastics is bad enough, but these microbeads also have been found to absorb and transfer environmental pollutants such as PCBs, DDT, and pesticides. In studies, scientists have found developmental delays, reduction in growth, liver stress and even mortality in animals as diverse as copepods (crustaceans) and fish. And guess who eventually eats microbead-filled fish?

The good news is that something is being done about these bad beads. The House of Representatives just approved a bill to phase out microbeads in personal care products. The bill, called the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015, will phase out microbeads by 2017. This federal bill follows on the heels of state actions. Illinois, California, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Wisconsin all have efforts on the books or in progress.

If you love exfoliating, don’t despair. There are biodegradable alternatives to microbeads, including apricot pits, nut shells, salt crystals, pumice and Jojoba beans. Even trade groups, such as the Consumer Health Care Product Association and the American Chemical Council, have supported the bill.

It is great news that we have taken on a problem, and, with the force of our convictions, have solved it. A ban on microbeads makes good sense, and perhaps it will inspire action on other fronts.  Automatic weapons, for instance, leap to mind. But I guess, one cause at a time.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.