Tiny plastic microbeads from personal products like facial scrubs, soaps, and toothpastes are washing down our drains and ending up in New York’s waters — threatening wildlife and public health, according to a recent study by SUNY researchers.
Once in the water, other toxic chemicals can attach to the plastic beads, which can then be eaten by fish and wildlife mistaking them for food, the research shows. Those plastic beads and the chemicals coating them can then end up in the fish our dining room table, experts say.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would prohibit the production, manufacturing, distribution and sale of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than five millimeters in size in New York State, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office.
“This is the introduction of common-sense legislation that will stop the flow of plastic from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, preserving our natural heritage for future generations,” Mr. Schneiderman said in the release.
Products containing plastic microbeads list “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” as ingredients, and institute researchers estimate a single exfoliant product can contain more than 300,000 microbeads.
The 2012 study, completed by scientists at SUNY Fredonia and researchers from the not-for-profit 5 Gyres Institute — which studies plastic pollution — found “alarmingly” high levels of perfectly spherical, multi-colored beads in the waters of Lake Erie.
To date, the Great Lakes are the only New York open waters sampled for plastic pollution, according to the release.
The plastic beads have also proven harmful to the bird population feeding at the water’s surface, said Erin Crotty, Executive Director of Audubon New York and Vice President of the National Audubon Society.
“Many waterbirds mistake plastics for food, or are susceptible to bioaccumulation of plastic in the fish they eat, which has detrimental effects — including decreased food-absorption and starvation,” Ms. Crotty said.
Mr. Sweeney, chairman of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee said that “when people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads.”
Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive have committed to phasing out the use of plastic microbeads in their products, while other companies are utilizing more natural alternatives, like ground walnut shells, sea salt and other natural abrasives, according to Mr. Schneiderman’s office.