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Albany County Legislators Propose Microbead Ban

As much as 19 tons of microbeads may be entering New York state wastewater annually, and are being ingested by fish. Credit: Dr. S. Mason, SUNY Fredonia
As much as 19 tons of microbeads may be entering New York state wastewater annually, and are being ingested by fish. Credit: Dr. S. Mason, SUNY Fredonia
September 16, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. - A common ingredient in toothpaste is bad for the environment and should be banned, some Albany County legislators say.

Microbeads, the plastic pellets found in a variety of personal-care products, may be tiny but studies show they can be a huge problem in the waste stream.

Brian Smith, associate director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the beads are non-biodegradable, absorb toxins - and to fish, they look like food.

"When they consume these pieces of plastic with these toxins," he said, "these toxins can work their way up the food chain, ultimately putting other fish and wildlife at risk, as well as people who may consume the fish."

A bill to ban microbeads statewide died in the state Senate despite bipartisan support, so Albany County legislators now have introduced a bill to ban them in their jurisdiction.

Erie County passed one of the toughest microbead bans in the country earlier this year. Jill Jedlicka, executive director of the group Buffalo Niagara River Keeper, said a study at Fredonia University found heavy concentrations of the beads in lakes Erie and Ontario, in the water and in the stomachs and tissue of fish.

"So, with this evidence and knowing that the Great Lakes are where residents of western New York get our drinking water, there really was no reason to delay any further having a ban of microbeads," she said.

According to a report from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office, as many as 19 tons of microbeads could be ending up in New York's wastewater every year.

There are alternatives to the plastic beads, and some products never have used them at all. Jedlicka said there was almost no opposition to the Erie County bill.

"We've actually seen many leading private-sector companies who have committed to removing these products from the shelves already," she said, "including some of the producers who stopped using microbeads in their products."

Bills to ban microbeads have been introduced in several other states and local jurisdictions. In New York, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Monroe and Suffolk counties have introduced bills, part of what Brian Smith called a growing grassroots movement.

"Local governments are going to put pressure ultimately on the state government to take action," he said. "There's no reason why the New York state Legislature shouldn't act, but we're very supportive of counties stepping up and doing what they have to do to protect their local waters."

Last year, Illinois became the first state to pass a law banning microbeads, and last week similar legislation passed in the California state Senate.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY