Some Albany lawmakers want to ban tiny plastic particles found in cosmetics, shampoos and toothpaste because they persist for centuries in the environment and pose a threat to fish, wildlife and humans.
The proposed legislation, known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act, would be the first of its kind in the nation, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The measure is being sponsored by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, a Long Island Democrat.
“From the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island Sound, our commitment to protecting and restoring New York’s waters is among our most important responsibilities,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York’s environmental leadership continues today with the introduction of common-sense legislation that will stop the flow of plastic from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, preserving our natural heritage for future generations.”
The plastic beads, which were recently found in alarmingly high levels in New York’s section of Lake Erie, can accumulate toxic chemicals on their surface, threatening fish, wildlife and public health, his office said.
“When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads. I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish,” said Sweeney, who chairs the Assembly’s environment committee. “I want to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for partnering with me to take action on an issue that threatens to pollute our State’s environmental treasures.”
The legislation would outlaw the manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size. Microbeads are found in more than 100 products, where they replace ground walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials as an abrasive.
The beads are rinsed down the drain and into sewer systems. Because of their small size and buoyancy, microbeads escape sewage treatment plants and are discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans, officials said.
Like other plastics, the microbeads can attract and accumulate certain toxic chemicals commonly found in waters across the state. Small fish and wildlife can mistake them for food.
Three large beauty product manufacturers – Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive – have all made recent commitments to phase out their use, the attorney general’s office said. Consumers can determine if their personal care products contain microbeads by checking the product ingredient list for “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.”
“Riverkeeper commends Attorney General Schneiderman and Assemblyman Sweeney for taking action to address the growing problem of microbead pollution in New York’s waters. We have strived for decades to reclaim the Hudson River from its industrial, polluted past, and we have a cleaner, healthier river as a result. These plastic microbeads are an unnecessary and harmful product that do not belong in our waterways, and should be phased out of use as quickly as possible – this proposed law would be a precedent-setting first step in achieving this goal,” Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay said in a statement.