Gillibrand targets microbeads in Lake Ontario

Staff Reports Posted 28 October 2014 at 12:00 am

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Lake Ontario community of Oswego on Monday and urged Congress to pass new legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products.

Plastic microbeads are found in personal care products like facial scrubs, body washes, hand cleansers and toothpaste. These products are designed to be rinsed down the drain, but the microbeads are too small to be captured by wastewater treatment plants. They are subsequently found in large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, where they concentrate toxins and can be ingested by birds and fish, posing serious environmental and health risks.

Recent reports identified thousands of plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Erie and up to 1.1 million particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. This could have a devastating effect on the Great Lakes fish populations, hurting the $7 billion recreational fishing industry, tourism industry, and the general economic well-being of the entire region.

“We have to make sure that Congress passes this ban on microbeads, because microbeads have already caused significant ecological damage to the Great Lakes region, and they will continue to do so until they are removed from the marketplace,” Gillibrand said.

The state of Illinois has already banned plastic microbeads in consumer products, with legislation being considered in New York, Ohio, and California. Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has spearheaded efforts in New York to ban the beads, and released a report finding that up to 19 tons of plastic microbeads wash down drains each year and into New York’s waterways.

They can last for decades, and when found in oceans and lakes, pose environmental and health risks because of the pollutants they can attract and carry. Wildlife and aquatic animals ingest the beads, which causes internal issues and exposure to concentrated levels of toxins.

“These plastic particles fill the water, attract pollutants, and harm not only fish and birds, but the people in this region who rely on them for food and wellbeing,” Gillibrand said. “Banning harmful plastic microbeads is the best solution to this damaging environmental problem.”