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A.G. Schneiderman Proposes Legislation Banning Plastic Microbeads In Commonly Used Cosmetics

Bill Attracts Broad Support From Environmental Advocacy Community

Microbead-Free Waters Act Bans Plastic Beads Used In Facial Scrubs, Shampoos, And Toothpaste; Beads Found At High Levels In New York Waters, Beads Pollute New York Waters And Pose Emerging Threat To Wildlife, Public Health

Schneiderman: Protecting Our Waterways Is Among New York’s Most Important Responsibilities

ALBANY – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today submitted to the leadership of the legislature a program bill that bans a form of plastic pollution that is an emerging threat to New York waters. The Attorney General’s Microbead-Free Waters Act, first proposed last year, will prohibit the sale in New York of beauty and cosmetic products that contain tiny plastic particles that are often marketed as microbeads. The plastic beads, which have been found in alarmingly high levels in the New York waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario as well as in the Finger Lakes and other waters, can persist in the environment for centuries and accumulate toxic chemicals on their surface, threatening fish, wildlife and public health. Last May, Attorney General Schneiderman released a report documenting the threat posed by microbeads, and finding that 19 tons of microbeads are potentially being discharged into New York’s wastewater stream each year. More recent studies have documented the presence of microbeads in the Finger Lakes and other New York waters as well.

“From the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes to the Long Island Sound, we have a profound responsibility to restore and protect New York’s waters,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This common-sense legislation will stop the flow of plastic pollution from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, preserving our natural heritage for future generations.”

The Microbead-Free Waters Act would prohibit the production, 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 commonly found in more than 100 products, including facial scrubs, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, where they replace ground walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials as an abrasive.

The bill was greeted by widespread expressions of support from the environmental advocacy community across New York State.

“When plastic microbeads leach into our water, they attract toxins that harm fish and birds and get passed on to humans,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “We need to protect New Yorkers, our water, and our wildlife from dangerous pollutants and damage caused by microbeads. I am fighting to ban microbeads at the federal level and I support the push Attorney General Scheiderman is leading to ban them in New York State.”

Assembly Member Steve Englebright, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, said, “I think when people understand that plastic microbeads in their cosmetics and toothpaste are ending up in the water they drink and the fish they eat, they will be unwilling to continue to use such products, especially since there are natural alternatives that provide the same, if not better, effectiveness without the plastic residue. As microbead pollution has made headlines nationwide, I am hopeful that a ban will emerge as a legislative priority this session.”

Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel said, “I first learned about the environmental impacts of microbeads in our waterways at a meeting of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). I have since learned of microbeads detrimental effects not only in New York State’s Great Lakes, but in many of our waterways, as microbeads are flushed through our water treatment plants. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s tenacity on this issue to make a microbead ban a reality in New York this year.”

“I commend the Attorney General for taking action and introducing the Microbead-Free Waters Act. Over the past three summers, we have been sampling the Great Lakes to more thoroughly understand the scope of plastic pollution in freshwater systems,” said Dr. Sherri Mason, Professor of Chemistry at SUNY Fredonia. “Our results have confirmed that high concentrations of microbeads were collected in New York’s waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and that these beads are making their way through the wastewater treatment plant process. The proposed bill will strike at the source of this serious problem.”

New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn said, “New York’s lakes and waterways are among our most beloved natural assets. This legislation will not only help protect them for future generations – it will also set an example for other states around the country to address this emerging environmental threat. We thank Attorney General Schneiderman for forging a common-sense, effective strategy to safeguard the natural resources that we all cherish and depend on.”

Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director Roger Downs said, “Plastic pollution is insidious – it doesn’t degrade like natural materials and persists for decades, if not centuries in our environment. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has set the bar on holding the beauty products industry accountable, and we urge other states around Great Lakes basin, and across the country to follow New York’s leadership.”

“Microbeads snake down the drains of consumers and past the protections of wastewater treatment facilities until they make their way into New York's waterways, and eventually to the ocean,” said Blair Horner, Legislative Director for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). “Microbeads, like other plastics, collect toxins and chemicals within the water. They are often mistaken for food by birds and marine life, thus allowing the pollution to climb up the food chain through bio-magnification. It is possible that many fish harvested for human consumption have been contaminated by ingesting microbeads. The Attorney General and the legislative sponsors deserve praise for their efforts to protect New York's waterways and its natural ecosystems by preventing plastic pollution.”

Brian Smith, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), said, “Plastic microbeads accumulate toxic chemicals and are consumed by fish and wildlife. These contaminants are unnecessarily polluting New York’s treasured waters and threatening public health. Having a pretty face doesn’t have to mean polluted water—safe alternatives to plastic are already on the market. CCE commends Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership to protect the health of all New York waters by proactively addressing this emerging threat.”

“More and more information is surfacing regarding the huge volume of plastic waste that is polluting our inland waterways and our oceans, and threatening marine life. One troublesome piece of the problem is the unrestricted use of synthetic microbeads in personal care products, even though natural, environmentally safe abrasives are readily available alternatives. For such reasons, NRDC welcomes the initiative of Attorney General Schneiderman to advance this sensible legislation,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Erin Crotty, Executive Director of Audubon New York and Vice President of the National Audubon Society, said, “Small plastics like microbeads pose a growing threat to many bird species that feed at the water’s surface. Many waterbirds mistake plastics for food -- or are susceptible to bioaccumulation of plastic in the fish they eat -- with detrimental effect, including decreased food-absorption and starvation. Audubon New York applauds New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for his leadership and attention to the growing problem of plastic pollution, and the threat it poses to birds and people across the globe.”

Paul Gallay, President of Riverkeeper, said, “We and many others have worked for decades, and huge strides have been made, to return the Hudson River to a fishable, swimmable, drinkable waterway, a goal that is once again being put at risk by micro bead plastic pollution that threatens wildlife and public health. We strongly support Attorney General Schneiderman’s legislation which will ban this unnecessary source of contamination that cannot be cleaned up and will persist for centuries if its flow into the Hudson and other precious New York waters is not stopped.”

“The continued use of microbeads is absurd. The harm from these tiny beads is easily underestimated, but no matter the shape or size, it is still plastic going down the drain and into our waterways,” said Saima Anjam, environmental health director at Environmental Advocates of New York. “Environmental Advocates applauds Attorney General Schneiderman for proposing this legislation, and we urge its immediate passage in both houses.”

"The emerging threat of microbead pollution has the potential to undermine the billions of dollars of public and private investment into our water-based economies and negatively impact the progress of Great Lakes restoration," said Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. "Twentieth century wastewater infrastructure never contemplated the scope and characteristics of 21st century pollution, and we cannot stand by and allow microbead pollution to devolve into a crisis before our governments and corporations take meaningful action. We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for demonstrating New York State's proactive leadership on this issue in the Great Lakes."

“At the end of last year, Plastic Tides traveled across New York’s inland waters on paddleboards taking water samples. We found microbeads in Cayuga Lake, Oneida Lake, the Erie Canal, and Mohawk River, with the highest abundance of microbeads in Cayuga Lake,” said Christian Shaw, co-founder of Plastic Tides. “It’s time to ban microbeads and stop the wave of plastic pollution from entering our waters.”

“The Adirondack Park is known for its pure waters, wildlife and healthy communities. Microbeads are a threat to all three,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “The Park has very few modern wastewater treatment plants capable of removing microbeads, and micobeads pass right through standard septic systems. Attorney General Schneiderman’s program bill would help to protect Adirondack lakes and rivers, our wildlife and our communities’ drinking water supplies.”

"The St. Lawrence River has some of the highest concentrations of microbead pollution of any of New York's waterways,” said Lee Willbanks, Executive Director of Save The River. “Save The River supports the Microbeads-Free Waters Act as the most effective way to remove this bio-accumulating threat to the health of the river and the species and communities that depend on it. Its quick passage into law will set the example for other Great Lakes states to follow."

“As part of the larger effort to reduce plastic pollution and marine debris in the Great Lakes, the Alliance for the Great Lakes applauds the Office of the Attorney General in New York for putting forth this legislation," said Alliance for the Great Lakes President and CEO Joel Brammeier. "With many readily available alternatives, microbeads in personal care products are unnecessary and do not belong in our Great Lakes."

“We strongly support Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s effort to ban microbeads, and keep them out of our waterways,” said Ryan McPherson, Chair of the Western New York Environmental Alliance, which is made up of over 100 environmental organizations throughout the region. We need to recalibrate our thinking and prioritize our people’s health, long term economic evolution and most importantly the integrity of our ecological systems. There are simple and cost effective alternatives to these toxic pellets and the time to lead is now.”

“Hudson River Sloop Clearwater supports passage of the Microbead-Free Waters Act,” said Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Education Director Dave Conover. “These small particles of plastic have been shown to harm fish and wildlife and are known to pass through our wastewater treatment plants, thus entering waterways like the Hudson. Removing microbeads from consumer products will go a long way towards reducing the impact of these particles on the environment.”

"Microbeads are an increasing threat to the Great Lakes and the birds, wildlife and people of our region,” said Dr. Loren Smith, Executive Director of the Buffalo Audubon Society. “We support the Attorney General's efforts to ban microbeads in personal care products in order to protect our precious fresh water resources and all those who depend upon a healthy environment."

“We don’t need plastic microbeads in cosmetics - there are alternatives,” said Lynda Schneekloth, Chair of the Sierra Club Niagara Group. “And perhaps more important, we should not be leaving a legacy of plastic pollution for the next generation to endure. The Sierra Club Niagara Group fully endorses Attorney General Schneiderman’s Microbead-Free Waters Act and the effort to protect our citizens and our local waters of Lake Erie and the mighty Niagara River.”

Rob Weltner, President of Operation Splash, said, “Banning plastic microbeads is essential in reducing unnecessary plastic pollution that is hurting our bays. Long Island depends on clean bays to support our economy. We commend Attorney General Schneiderman for introducing this important legislation.”

Dr. Artie Kopelman, President, CRESLI (Coastal Research Education Society of Long Island) and SUNY Distinguished Service Professor said, “According to a recent study there are more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons floating in our seas. This volume of floating microplastics is lower than expected, since the microplastics are entering food webs, world-wide. Microbeads have become ubiquitous forms of microplastics. They adsorb toxins and become a mechanism for poisoning the biota that inadvertently ingest them. Plastic microbeads are unnecessary and represent a source of contamination that can and should be stopped. CRESLI thanks Attorney General Schneiderman for working to ban the use of microbeads in NY.”

In addition to Attorney General Schneiderman’s push at the state level, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has also introduced legislation to ban microbeads in personal care products nationwide.

When products containing microbeads are used in the home, the beads are rinsed down the drain and into our sewer systems. Because of their small size and buoyancy, microbeads escape treatment by sewage plants and are discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans.

In 2012, a team of researchers that included scientists from the State University of New York at Fredonia discovered alarming levels of microbeads in Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie, averaging more than 466,000 piece of microplastic per square kilometer. Half of all plastics collected on the surface of Lake Erie were the perfectly spherical, multi-colored beads identical to the microbeads used in beauty products. A subsequent study found up to 1.1 million particles of microplastic per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. And, samples collected last November have confirmed the presence of microbead pollution in other New York waters: Cayuga Lake, Oneida Lake, the Erie Canal, and Mohawk River.

Once in the water, microbeads, like other plastics, can attract and accumulate certain toxic chemicals commonly found in waters across the state, and can be mistaken as food by small fish and wildlife. Scientific studies have shown that fish and wildlife of all sizes consume plastic. In addition, environmental pollution found in Great Lakes waters, such as PCBs (the industrial pollutants polychlorinated biphenyls), gravitate and attach to the surface of plastic. If fish and wildlife species low on the food chain eat these contaminated plastics, the chemicals might be passed on to larger birds, fish and other animals that are eaten by people.

Several leading beauty product manufacturers – Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever – have made commitments to phase out the use of microbeads in their products. Other companies, such as Burt’s Bees, have never used these plastics in their products. Consumers can determine if their beauty or personal care products contain microbeads by checking the product ingredient list for “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.”