Washington D.C – In response to a recent report that identified thousands of plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Erie and up to 1.1 million particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add microbeads and microplastics to the list of Great Lakes contaminants. 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 are too small to be captured by wastewater treatment plants. They are subsequently found in large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, and can be ingested by birds and fish, posing serious environmental and health risks. 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. The state of Illinois has already banned microbeads in consumer products, with legislation being considered in New York, Ohio and California. Adding these contaminants to the list would allow them to be studied further.
“Microbeads can concentrate toxins already in the environment and pose a serious threat to New York waterways’ natural ecosystem,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I urge EPA to add microbeads and microplastics to the list of emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes, to ensure the proper improvements can take place to help remove them from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. I will continue to do all that I can to make sure New York’s waterways are protected from pollution and are preserved for generations to come.”
“From the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island Sound, our commitment to protecting and restoring New York’s waters is among our most important responsibilities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “While they may be invisible to users, roughly 19 tons of microbeads are washed down the drain in New York every year. I applaud Senator Gillibrand for her leadership in fighting to stop the flow of plastic from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, protecting our natural heritage against this hidden threat.”
Microbeads have been banned from personal care products in Illinois and there are several other states including New York, currently considering similar legislation. Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has spearheaded efforts in New York to ban the beads and released a report which found that more than 19 tons of microbeads wash down drains each year and possibly 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 exposes them to toxins.
In her letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, urging the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Interagency Task Force to include microbeads and microplastics as contaminants in the GLRI Action Plan II FY15-19, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “Explicitly identifying microplastics and microbeads as an emerging contaminant in the GRLI Action Plan II will ensure this critical issue receives the attention it deserves.”
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 microplatic problem and allows for the development of proper remediation.
The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter is attached.