Press Release

Senator Gillibrand Announces New Push To Ban Plastic Microbeads In Personal Care Products

Jul 20, 2015

Plattsburgh, NY – Standing at Champlain Park, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined by Bill Howland, Director of the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Mike Winslow, Staff Scientist 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.

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 Eric T. 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.”

“Many people still think that when a product is rinsed down the shower drain, or thrown away, that should be the last they hear of it. But we have learned that it is impossible to throw or rinse away much of anything, because there really is no such place as away. This is especially true of plastic microbeads,” said Bill Howland, Director of the Lake Champlain Basin Program. “They provide a perfect surface for wastewaters toxins to bond and collect. And then they enter the food chain and the toxins are concentrated. We applaud Senator Gillibrand for her national leadership in recognizing this new mechanism of pollution and taking legislative action to prevent it.”

“Plastics have no place in our waterways. They harm fish, wildlife, and ecosystem health. There are safer, bio-degradable, non-polluting alternatives that have been used for years,” said Mike Winslow, Staff Scientist of the Lake Champlain Committee. “We thank Senator Gillibrand and Attorney General Schneiderman for their leadership on this issue.”

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 Clinton, Franklin and Essex Counties predominantly rely on 28 wastewater treatment plants of different sizes and capabilities. Water collected from two of these plants, both in Essex County, were found to contain microbeads in the State Attorney General’s 2015 report. Several of these plants like most plants throughout all of New York do not employ advanced treatment that would effectively remove microbeads. This means when the residents of New York unknowingly wash approximately 19 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 Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, 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.