November 14, 2014

Standing On The North Shore Of Long Island, Gillibrand Pushes New Legislation To Ban Plastic Microbeads In Personal Care Products

Plastic Microbeads Pose Severe Risks To Ecosystem When Washed Down The Drain

Oyster Bay, NY – Standing at the Waterfront Center on Long Island’s north shore, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, joined by Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director of Programs Maureen Dolan Murphy, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady, and Associate Dean for Research and Professor within the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University Chris Gobler, urged Congress to pass new legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products. Congressman Pallone (D-NJ) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

Plastic microbeads are found in personal care products like facial scrubs, body washes, hand cleansers, and toothpaste. These products are designed to be rinsed down the drain, but the microbeads are too small to be captured by wastewater treatment plants. They subsequently have been found in large bodies of water across New York State, where they concentrate toxins and can be ingested by birds and fish, posing serious environmental and health risks. 

The plastic microbeads could have a devastating effect on the state’s fish populations, hurting the commercial and recreational fishing industries, tourism industry, and the general economic well-being of the state’s coastal communities.

“These tiny pieces of plastic have already caused significant ecological damage to New York’s waterways, and they will continue to do so until they are removed from the marketplace,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Plastic microbeads are too small to be stopped by normal drainage systems, and they collect toxins in the water that harm not only fish and birds, but the people in this region who rely on them for food and wellbeing. It’s so important for our environment that we ban these harmful plastic microbeads.”

“Plastic is an ever-growing pollutant that is adversely impacting our waters, wildlife and public health.  Small, plastic microbeads threaten public health by accumulating toxic chemicals that are then consumed by fish and wildlife. One personal care product can contain thousands of microbeads and up to 10% by volume. We want our soaps and toothpaste to clean our face and teeth, not pollute our waters and contaminate our fish. A clean face shouldn’t mean dirty water.  CCE commends Senator Gillibrand for addressing an emerging contaminate and working to protect public health, the Long Island Sound, and all of our treasured waterbodies from plastic pollution,” said Maureen Dolan Murphy, Executive Programs Manager, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“Friends of the Bay applauds Senator Gillibrand's initiative to remove microbeads from the marketplace and - ultimately - our waters. There is every reason to believe that this man-made pollutant is present in our coastal waters as well as the Great Lakes, and we can ill afford to introduce any new threats to the health of the marine ecosystems which are so important to our economy and quality of life here on Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor. Taking action on the national level makes good environmental sense,” said Paul DeOrsay, Executive Director of Friends of the Bay.

“The benefits of eating wild-caught fish should not be short-circuited by the downstream effect of microbeads in our water supply, leaving behind long-term toxins that affect a multitude of wildlife, including fish and their habitats. Senator Gillibrand's legislation is a great step forward to help protect both wildlife and consumers, now and in the future. The Long Island Commercial Fishing Association is proud to support her efforts,” said Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.

“These plastics could enter the food chain via filter feeding fish or shellfish. The plastics could be directly damaging to marine life. Further, pollutant chemicals like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) can attach to the plastics and could potentially be cycled into the food chain with the plastics,” said Christopher Gobler, Associate Dean for Research and Professor within the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

The state of Illinois has already banned plastic microbeads in consumer products, with legislation being considered in New York, Ohio, and California. Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has spearheaded efforts in New York to ban the beads, and released a report finding that up to 19 tons of plastic microbeads wash down drains each year and into New York’s waterways. They can last for decades, and when found in oceans and lakes, pose environmental and health risks because of the pollutants they can attract and carry. Wildlife and aquatic animals ingest the beads, which cause internal issues and exposure to concentrated levels of toxins.

In July, Senator Gillibrand urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Interagency Task Force to include microbeads and microplastics as contaminants in the GLRI Action Plan II FY15-19. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative leverages federal resources to forge initiatives that improve water quality and protect native species.

Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) data shows that Nassau County predominantly relies on thirteen wastewater treatment plants of different sizes and capabilities. The two largest of Nassau County’s wastewater treatment plants service over 1 million of the total 1.349 million county residents. However, neither plant employs advanced treatment that would effectively remove microbeads. This means when the residents of Nassau County unknowingly wash approximately 1.3 tons of microbeads down the drain every year, most of the plastic microbeads are entering plants that are not equipped to stop them from being discharged into the Atlantic Ocean, Reynolds Channel, and other surrounding waters.