Press Release

Gillibrand & Schneiderman Announce New Push To Ban Plastic Microbeads In Personal Care Products

Jul 20, 2015

West Sayville, NY – Standing at the Long Island Maritime Museum, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, joined by Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay III and Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment announced a new push to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products. Senator Gillibrand introduced the bipartisan Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, legislation to federally ban cosmetics containing synthetic plastic microbeads. Attorney General Schneiderman’s bipartisan bill, also called the Microbead-Free Waters Act, would prohibit the sale and distribution of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads in New York State.

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. An April 2015 report released by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office found that microbeads were present in 74 percent of water samples taken from 34 municipal and private treatment plants across New York State.  

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. That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation to federally ban microbeads across the country,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Plastic microbeads are too small to be stopped by normal water treatment systems, and they collect toxins in the water that harm not only fish and birds, but also the people in this region who rely on them for food and wellbeing.”

“Microbeads are a threat to our environment, our wildlife, and our public health,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “New Yorkers wash more than 19 tons of microbeads down the drain every year. Strong, comprehensive regulation is the only way to stop this situation from getting worse. My bipartisan bill in Albany and Sen. Gillibrand’s bipartisan bill in Washington will both be major steps toward a cleaner, healthier state.”

“Plastic microbeads are not just an environmental issue, but a region economic issue that is hurting our local fishing businesses across the South Shore of Long Island,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bill Lindsay III. “I stand behind the efforts of Senator Gillibrand and Attorney General Schneiderman to ban plastic microbeads in consumer products to better product our water quality, our fish and bird populations, and our local economy.”

“The public expects facial soaps and toothpaste to clean our face and teeth, not pollute our waters,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Plastic microbeads pollute our waters, contaminate our fish and shellfish, and could end up back on our dinner plates.  They are completely unnecessary.  Alternatives, such as apricot shells, salt, and oatmeal exist and are effective. We commend Senator Gillibrand and Attorney General Schneiderman for leading the charge to ban plastic microbeads and protect NY waters and public health.”

“I first learned about microbead pollution at a National Caucus of Environmental Legislators’ Great Lakes Forum.  The concentrations of microplastic from the Great Lakes rivaled the highest concentrations of microplastic collected from the world’s ocean garbage patches. Not only do microbeads damage our environment, they are fast becoming an expensive problem for our wastewater infrastructure,” said Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, sponsor of the New York State legislation to ban microbeads statewide. “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s tenacity and dedication to this issue. Over the past few years, this has become a nationwide issue and if we continue to ignore it, our waterways from the Great Lakes to the Long Island Sound to Manhasset Bay will continue to accumulate these tiny toxic plastic particles.”

“The threat posed by microbead waste is of national consequence.  The cumbersome task of tackling this issue municipality to municipality and state to state, will never prove as effective as a federal approach,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, sponsor of a local law to phase out cosmetics containing the additive. “I applaud the bipartisan efforts lead by Senator Gillibrand and the advocacy of Attorney General Schneiderman to ensure a solution that will provide for a continuum in microbead policy, not only to protect water quality and marine life, but also for consumers and producers who have had, to this point, various guidelines that often vary from location to location.”      

“Microbeads are a threat to the health and safety of our clean water,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “The best way to remove microbeads from the marketplace and our water supply is strong action at the federal level.  I applaud Senator Gillibrand for helping build a bipartisan coalition to take action at the federal level.  I also applaud the leadership of Attorney General Schneiderman for raising awareness of this threat which is helping to prompt action.”

The state of Illinois has already banned plastic microbeads in consumer products, with legislation being considered in 13 other states including New York. Attorney General Schneiderman has spearheaded efforts in New York to ban the beads, and the April 2015 report study conducted by his office confirms that microbeads “are systematically passing through wastewater treatment plants across New York State and entering bodies of water.” It is estimated 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.

Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) data shows that Suffolk County predominantly relies on 21 wastewater treatment plants of different sizes and capabilities. The largest of Suffolk County’s wastewater treatment plants services over 75 percent of the county residents. Most plants throughout all of Long Island do not employ advanced treatment that would effectively remove microbeads. This means when the residents of Long Island unknowingly wash approximately 1.7 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 Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, and other surrounding waters.

Senator Gillibrand introduced the bipartisan Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 with Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Gary Peters (D-MI) on May 21, 2015. The legislation is also co-sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.