New York's attorney general and a state lawmaker have proposed what they call the nation's first legislation to ban plastic microbeads in commonly used cosmetics.

Microbead-Free Waters Act, plastic microbeads, cosmetics, Eric Schneiderman, Robert Sweeney, Great Lakes, Lake Erie, beauty products, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Burt's Bees, personal care products

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New York legislation aims to ban microbeads in cosmetics

February 12th, 2014

NEW YORK – New York's attorney general and a state lawmaker have proposed what they call the nation's first legislation to ban plastic microbeads in commonly used cosmetics.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Long Island Assemblyman Robert Sweeney said Tuesday that the Microbead-Free Waters Act will prohibit the sale in New York of beauty and cosmetic products that contain tiny plastic particles that are often marketed as microbeads. Sweeney will introduce the bill in the New York Assembly.

The plastic beads, recently found in high levels in the New York waters of Lake Erie, can persist in the environment for centuries and accumulate toxic chemicals on their surface, threatening fish, wildlife and public health, they said.

"New York's environmental leadership continues today with the introduction of common-sense legislation that will stop the flow of plastic from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, preserving our natural heritage for future generations," Schneiderman said in a statement.

Specifically, the Microbead-Free Waters Act would ban the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size. Microbeads are commonly found in more than 100 products, including facial scrubs, soap, shampoo and toothpaste, where they replace ground walnut shells, sea salt and other natural materials as an abrasive.

Three leading beauty product manufacturers — Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive — have all made recent commitments to phase out the use of microbeads in their products, according to Schneiderman and Sweeney. Other companies, such as Burt’s Bees, have never used these plastics in their products, they added. Consumers can determine if their beauty or personal care products contain microbeads by checking the product ingredient list for polyethylene or polypropylene.

"When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads," Sweeney stated. "I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish. I want to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for partnering with me to take action on an issue that threatens to pollute our state's environmental treasures."

When products containing microbeads are used in the home, the beads are rinsed down the drain and into our sewer systems. Because of their small size and buoyancy, microbeads escape treatment by sewage plants and are discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans. Once in the water, microbeads, like other plastics, can attract and accumulate certain toxic chemicals commonly found in waters across the state and can be mistaken as food by small fish and wildlife.

In addition, environmental pollution found in Great Lakes waters, such as PCBs, gravitate and attach to the surface of plastic. If fish and wildlife species low on the food chain eat these contaminated plastics, the chemicals might be passed on to larger birds, fish and other animals that people eat.

To date, the Great Lakes are the only New York open waters sampled for plastic pollution. However, microbeads in beauty products can pass through sewage treatment facilities in any part of the state, raising concerns about their introduction into other state waters.

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