Oswego, NY – Standing at The Port of Oswego Marina today in Oswego, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, joined by Terry Hammil, Port of Oswego Chairman of the Board, Sarah Eckel with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen, urged Congress to pass new legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products.
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 are subsequently found in large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, where they concentrate toxins and can be ingested by birds and fish, posing serious environmental and health risks.
Recent reports identified 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.
“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,” said Senator Gillibrand. “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 wellbeing. Banning harmful plastic microbeads is the best solution to this damaging environmental problem.”
“With 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer, the levels of Microbeads in Lake Ontario are the highest in the Great Lakes. 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,” said Thomas Gillen, Mayor, City of Oswego.
“Plastic microbeads can accumulate toxic chemicals and be consumed by fish and wildlife. They are unnecessarily polluting New York’s waters, wildlife and threatening public health. Safer, bio-degradable, non-polluting alternatives to plastic microbeads are readily available and cost effective. CCE commends Senator Gillibrand for her leadership in working to protect the health of the Great Lakes and all of our treasured waterbodies from plastic pollution,” said Sarah Eckel, Legislative & Policy Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
“Not that long ago, there was some question about the longevity of the Great Lakes ecosystems. Today, through successful initiatives with our State and Federal partners, these treasured natural resources have proved their resilience and they continue to provide immeasurable benefit to our residents, our businesses and our recreational visitors from around the world. We applaud the Senator for her proactive efforts to make sure they continue to do so,” said David Turner, Director, Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning.
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 causes 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. After releasing their GLRI Action Plan II for fiscal years 15-19, EPA has opened a comment period. By adding microbeads and microplastics to the list of emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes, there will be opportunities to better study the microbead and microplastic problem, and allow for the development of proper remediation.