New York may become the first state to ban tiny plastic microbeads found in hundreds of facial scrubs, soaps and toothpastes.
A state bill introduced today would prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale of products containing plastic beads fewer than 5 millimeters in size because they have been shown to bypass the sewage system and wind up in bodies of water, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
Schneiderman called it “common-sense legislation.” Long Island Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Suffolk, introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act on Schneiderman’s behalf.
They cited research by chemistry professor Sheri Mason, who conducted an experiment with her class at SUNY Fredonia to see how much plastic was in Lake Erie. They took samples of what looked like “green sludge” from the lake, oxidized the samples to remove organic material and expected to be left with pieces of plastic, Mason said.
“We start processing samples and see these little round perfect sphere beads of plastic. That was not what we were expecting at all,” Mason said. “You go, ‘Oh my gosh. These are microbeads.’ You know them when you see them. They’re so perfectly round, and they’re brightly colored.”
She found thousands of the dazzling rainbow beads and published a study on her findings in 2012. Although she suspects the beads must be getting past water treatment plants and into the lakes and rivers, she’s currently working on a study of sewage facilities to prove it, she said.
That's why lawmakers introduced the bill.
“It goes down the drain, but going down the drain doesn’t mean it goes away,” Sweeney said.
In addition to polluting the water, the beads can accumulate other toxic chemicals, be eaten by fish and wind up in the food supply, according to the Attorney General's office.
Manufacturers would have until December 2015 to phase the microbeads out and replace them with salt, walnut pieces or other natural substances, which already exist in many scrubs, Sweeney said.
Unilever -- whose brands include Dove, Pond’s and Caress -- pledged in 2012 to eliminate plastic beads from its products by 2015.