Congress backs bill banning microbeads

WASHINGTON – Plastic microbeads used in soaps, body washes, toothpaste and other personal-care products will be phased out starting in 2017 under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the president.

The Senate approved the bill Friday following House approval last week. Lawmakers said the bill was needed to protect fish and wildlife that are ingesting the tiny beads after they are rinsed down the drain and discharged into lakes and rivers.

Microbeads are tiny particles used as an abrasive in many personal-care and beauty products, such as facial scrubs, soaps and toothpastes. They do not dissolve and can persist in the environment for decades.

The federal legislation would prohibit the manufacture of products containing plastic microbeads as of July 1, 2017, and phase out sales of the product over the next two years. The federal law would take precedence over state laws that are starting to phase out microbeads over similar concerns.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, was one of the original sponsors of the Senate version of the bill.

“A federal ban on plastic microbeads in personal care products gives us a powerful new tool in our efforts to clean up New York’s waterways,” Gillibrand said in a press release. “These tiny pieces of plastic have the potential to cause serious ecological damage, hurt our fishing and tourism industries, and they have already polluted our drinking water supply.”

An April report from New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman showed that showed microbeads were found in post-treatment wastewater at 25 of 34 test sites, including Lake Placid.

“My office has fought to protect the health of New York waters and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend upon them from the threat of plastic microbeads,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “Elected officials, advocates, and citizens from across the state have joined our effort to ban this pervasive and preventable form of plastic pollution. I applaud Senator Gillibrand taking up this cause and leading a national response to micobead pollution – New Yorkers and their waters will be healthier because of it.”

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, was a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called microbeads devastating to wildlife and human health. Once signed into law, the legislation phasing out microbeads should protect Lake Erie and other waterways now being polluted, Portman said.

“The Great Lakes have survived many a foe – severe pollution, oil spills, discharge from refineries, zebra mussels and attempts to steal our water, just to name a few,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “We are going to fight any activity that puts our beloved Great Lakes in jeopardy.”

“We know our country’s waterways do not always respect state boundaries,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. “The strong federal standard we have developed is more protective and implementation will occur sooner” than in any current state law.