New York, NY - May 5, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today praised the State Assembly for passing first-in-the-nation legislation banning a form of plastic pollution that is an emerging threat to New York’s Great Lakes and other bodies of water. The Attorney General’s Microbead-Free Waters Act, sponsored in the Assembly by Long Island Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, will prohibit the sale in New York of beauty and cosmetic products that contain tiny plastic particles, often marketed as microbeads. The Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 108 to 0. The plastic beads, which were recently found in alarmingly high levels in the New York waters of Lake Erie, may persist in the environment for centuries and accumulate toxic chemicals on their surface, threatening fish, wildlife and public health.
“By passing the Microbead-Free Waters Act, the Assembly has taken an important step toward protecting and restoring New York’s waterways, from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River to Long Island Sound,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “I am grateful to Speaker Silver and Assemblyman Sweeney for their partnership in the effort to stop the flow of plastic pollution from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters where it jeopardizes wildlife and public health.”
The Microbead-Free Waters Act would prohibit the 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, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, where they replace ground walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials used as an abrasives.
Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert K. Sweeney said, “Today, we’ve taken an important step toward ridding our oceans, lakes and waterways of microbeads. People are unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads. 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 this important issue.”
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.
In 2012, a team of researchers that included scientists from the State University of New York at Fredonia discovered alarming levels of microbeads in the Great Lakes – with the highest concentrations recorded in the New York waters of Lake Erie. Half of all plastics collected on the surface of Lake Erie were the perfectly spherical, multi-colored beads identical to the microbeads used in beauty products. Other plastics collected included larger plastic litter that had broken down in the environment, such as detergent bottles and Styrofoam.
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. Scientific studies have shown that fish and wildlife of all sizes consume plastic. In the Great Lakes, SUNY Fredonia researchers performing food web surveys are finding plastic in the gastrointestinal tracts of perch. In addition, environmental pollution found in Great Lakes waters, such as PCBs (the industrial pollutants polychlorinated biphenyls), gravitate and attach to the surface of plastic. If fish or other species low on the food chain eat these contaminated plastics, the chemicals are passed on to larger fish that people eat and to birds and other wildlife.
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.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, “The research has shown that microbeads pose a huge danger to our waterways, especially Lake Erie. I thank the Attorney General for his efforts to ban microbeads, and I am pleased that the Assembly took action today to protect our lakes, rivers, and other vitally important waterways. The Microbead-Free Waters Act implements common-sense reforms and continues New York State's commitment to healthy waterways. It is my hope that we can see this bill signed into law by the end of our legislative session.”
“I first learned about the dangers of microbeads while attending a National Caucus of Environmental Legislators conference in Chicago last year. Subsequent to this conference, I researched this issue thoroughly and discovered that microplastic pollution in our waterways is a real problem in New York State as well as throughout the country. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney’s bill will help New York State take an important step in preventing further microplastic pollution,” said Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, a member of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, and a member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.
Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, Chair of the NYS Caucus of Environmental Legislators, said, “Most consumers have no idea that when they use common skincare products they're washing pollutants down the drain and into our waterways, seas, and oceans. Microbeads should be banned from skincare products. Simply put, they do far more harm than good, especially given that there are far less problematic alternatives. I am proud to support Attorney General Schneiderman's and Assemblymember Sweeney's bill to put an end to this environmental scourge.”
New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn said, “New York’s lakes and waterways are among our most beloved natural assets, and the passage of the Microbead-Free Waters Act is welcome news. This legislation will not only help protect them for future generations – it will also set an example for other states around the country to address this emerging environmental threat. We thank Attorney General Schneiderman for forging a common-sense, effective strategy to safeguard the natural resources that we all cherish and depend on.”
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director Roger Downs said, “Plastic pollution is insidious – it doesn’t degrade like natural materials and persists for decades, if not centuries in our environment. We commend the New York State Assembly for realizing this, and taking action to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has set the bar on holding the beauty products industry accountable, and we urge other states around Great Lakes basin, and across the country to follow New York’s leadership and pass similar legislation.”
Brian Smith, Program & Communications Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), said, “Plastic microbeads that can accumulate toxic chemicals and be consumed by fish and wildlife are unnecessarily polluting New York’s treasured waters and threatening public health. CCE commends Attorney General Schneiderman, Assemblyman Sweeney, and Senator Grisanti for their leadership to protect the health of the Great Lakes and all New York waters from plastic pollution. We thank the NYS Assembly for taking an important step to make New York a national leader in proactively addressing the emerging threat of plastic microbeads.”
Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, said, “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 restoration. We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for demonstrating New York State's leadership on this issue in the Great Lakes, and we thank the New York State Assembly for advancing legislation that will directly benefit the health of our waterways.”
5 Gyres Institute Dr. Marcus Eriksen, lead author on the paper reporting on the first ever open-water survey of the Great Lakes for plastic pollution, said, “We found more small plastic pieces in the Great Lakes than in many of the ocean garbage patches, and the majority were microbeads. The 5 Gyres Institute commends New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for his global leadership in responding quickly to this emerging source of plastic pollution, and we thank the New York State Assembly for acting quickly and passing the Microbead-Free Waters Act.”
Paul Gallay, President of Riverkeeper, said, “Riverkeeper commends Attorney General Schneiderman and Assemblyman Sweeney for taking action to address the growing problem of microbead pollution in New York’s waters. We have strived for decades to reclaim the Hudson River from its industrial, polluted past, and we have a cleaner, healthier river as a result. These plastic microbeads are an unnecessary and harmful product that do not belong in our waterways, and should be phased out of use as quickly as possible – the passage of this legislation in the New York State Assembly is a precedent-setting step in achieving this goal.”
Erin Crotty, Executive Director of Audubon New York and Vice President of the National Audubon Society, said, “Small plastics like microbeads pose a growing threat to many bird species that feed at the water’s surface. Many waterbirds mistake plastics for food -- or are susceptible to bioaccumulation of plastic in the fish they eat -- with detrimental effect, including decreased food-absorption and starvation. Audubon New York applauds New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Assemblyman Robert Sweeney and the New York State Assembly for their leadership and attention to the growing problem of plastic pollution, and the threat it poses to birds and people across the globe.”