Sen. Gillibrand aims to ban microbeads

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been urging Congress to pass state and federal legislation to ban microbeads. (Photo provided by Gillibrand 2010)
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been urging Congress to pass state and federal legislation to ban microbeads. (Photo provided by Gillibrand 2010)

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently visited the port of Oswego to discuss urging Congress to pass new legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products that are frequently found in the water of the Great Lakes.

Microbeads are the small, plastic spheres found in body washes, face soaps and even toothpastes that help exfoliate the surfaces. They rub against the skin, or enamel, and help the soap clean tougher surfaces. They then wash down the drain where most people forget about them. They are small enough to pass through the water treatment plants and become washed out with the wastewater. In the case of the Oswego area, that leads to Lake Ontario.

“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. “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 well-being. Banning harmful plastic microbeads is the best solution to this damaging environmental problem.”

Meeting with other city officials, Gillibrand expounded on the effect of microbeads in the lake and the need for a ban at the state and federal level. The mayor of Oswego, the port chairman, the chairman of the Oswego Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning and a representative of Citizens Campaign for the Environment all came out to support her cause.

Microbeads float and accumulate in the upper portion of the lake alongside photosynthetic bacteria. These bacteria secrete wastes that attach themselves to the slightly charged and porous microbeads. They become surrounded in a cloak of these natural, toxic wastes. Fish and birds eat the beads, mistaking them for food and become poisoned. The rotting corpses release these orbs back into the ecosystem to wreak more havoc. Because they are made of plastic, they don’t decompose easily. They often last decades and become concentrated in these areas of wastewaters.

According to recent reports, there were 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.

“With 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer, the levels of microbeads in Lake Ontario are the highest in the Great Lakes,” said Oswego city Mayor Thomas Gillen. “These microbeads soak up toxins like a sponge and these harmful chemicals can be passed on to humans and wildlife. It is critical for our environment, economy and quality of life to address this danger and ban microbeads.”

“Plastic microbeads can accumulate toxic chemicals and be consumed by fish and wildlife,” said Sarah Eckel, the legislative and policy director at Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “They are unnecessarily polluting New York’s waters, wildlife and threatening public health. Safer, biodegradable, non-polluting alternatives to plastic microbeads are readily available and cost effective. CCE commends Sen. Gillibrand for her leadership in working to protect the health of the Great Lakes and all of our treasured waterbodies from plastic pollution.”

Meanwhile, the plastic microbeads have been banned in Indiana and New York is not the only state discussing banning them altogether. Ohio and California are also considering it. While states discuss it for their own conditions, Gillibrand seeks more national action.

“We have to make sure that Congress passes this ban on microbeads,” Gillibrand said. “Banning harmful microbeads is the best solution to this environmental problem.”