Press Release

Standing At The Niagara River, Between Lake Erie And Lake Ontario, Gillibrand Announces New Legislation To Ban Plastic Microbeads In Personal Care Products

Sep 5, 2014

Buffalo, NY – Standing at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fontana Boathouse in Buffalo, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, joined by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Jill Spisiak Jedlicka of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, and local Chef Bobby Anderson, today announced 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.

“Plastic microbeads have already caused significant ecological damage to the Great Lakes region, and they will continue to do so until manufacturers remove them from our personal care products,” said Senator Gillibrand. “When these plastic particles fill the water, they attract pollutants like PCB’s already in the environment, and concentrate them to dangerous levels. Fish and birds think they’re food, and they eat them. Not only does this disrupt the food chain and contaminate significant portions of the wildlife population here, but it hurts our commercial and recreational fishing industries, because they can’t sell – and we can’t eat – a catch that’s contaminated with toxic plastic.”

“Senator Gillibrand’s federal legislation to ban microbeads is critical to protecting and restoring our country’s waterways—including the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and the Long Island Sound – from plastic pollution,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “My office introduced a similar, common-sense bill in our state legislature this spring that will stop the flow of plastic from ill-designed products into our vital waters. I look forward to working with the Senator to preserve our natural heritage for future generations across this great country.”

“It’s hard to believe something so small could be so bad for the environment. But plastic microbeads are a serious threat that will affect entire ecosystems — including many of us — if we don’t act now,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “New York’s lakes and waterways are among our most beloved natural assets. We salute Senator Gillibrand for proposing common-sense solution that will protect these resources for generations to come.”

“The emerging threat of microbead pollution has the potential to undermine the billions of dollars of public and private investment into our water-based economies and negatively impact the progress of Great Lakes health and restoration,” said Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. “Production and use of microbeads is both unnecessary and optional. The transition to safer alternative products is quicker, cheaper and more effective than burdening taxpayers and municipalities with the cost of removing microbeads from wastewater.  We applaud Senator Gillibrand for her Great Lakes leadership on this issue, and for committing to advancing legislation that will directly benefit the health of our waterways.”

“Tiny plastic microbeads are adding up to become a huge problem for our Great Lakes,” said Brian Smith, Associate Executive Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The good news is that having a pretty face doesn’t have to mean polluted water—safe alternatives to plastic microbeads are already on the market.  CCE commends Senator Gillibrand for her leadership to put a stop to the emerging threat of plastic microbeads in our treasured waters.”

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 which found 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 exposes them 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 microplatic problem and allow for the development of proper remediation.