Officials Work to Ban Synthetic Microbeads

By Lauren Wanko

It’s used in lots of face washes, soaps, toothpastes and other cosmetics. Microbeads — small balls of plastic often used as exfoliants.

“We’re here to talk about the environmental dangers posed by these synthetic plastic microbeads,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.

Pallone introduced bipartisan legislation that would prohibit the distribution or sale of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads, dubbed the Mircrobead-Free Waters Act of 2015. It would take effect January 2018.

“It’s a major public health and environmental concern for consumers,” said Food & Water Watch New Jersey Director Jim Walsh.

Food & Water Watch says the microbeads are so tiny they pass through most water treatment systems and end up in our streams, rivers and oceans. Fish often mistake the microbeads for food.

“It doesn’t leave the fish’s system after the fish eats it. The fishermen catch these fish they get delivered to your grocery store where then you can unknowingly buy these fish that have consumed these microbeads. There’s no testing, no requirements to ensure that they aren’t there,” Walsh said.

“The chemicals found in these synthetic plastic microbeads can be harmful,” Pallone said.

“In 2014 SUNY Fredonia released a study that suggested that there were 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer just in Lake Ontario,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Communications Associate Sandra Meola.

New York/New Jersey Baykeeper doesn’t know how many microbeads are in our waterways.

“This net collects all the plastic particulars suspended in that water,” Meola said.

Researchers will start collecting and analyzing samples next week. Illinois’ governor recently signed legislation that bans the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads.

“We think we should have a national standard. It shouldn’t just be state by state,” said Pallone.

Pallone said he was inspired by similar legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan.

“It flew through both the Assembly and Senate, went to the governor’s desk for his signature. He conditionally vetoed it concerning the fines, which we have come to an agreement on,” Diegnan said.

In New Jersey, business owners who sell products with microbeads in 2019 would face a $500 fine for the first offense.

“There are these scrubs now that are using ground apricot pits for example,” Pallone said. “Some of the cosmetic companies are actually already moving in that direction and are supportive of this.”

L’Oreal tells NJTV News the company is committed to phasing out microbeads from all scrubs by 2017. Johnson & Johnson is eliminating it from their products by the end of that year too.

“For my experience in New Jersey, it was a really positive experience because I anticipated that the industry would push back and they in fact embraced it,” Diegnan said.

Assemblyman Diegnan’s confident the bill will become law in about 30 days. Pallone says he hopes other members of Congress will recognize the importance of the legislation. Given the bipartisan support, he’s hopeful the bill will move forward in the 114th Congress.