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Report details the harmful effects of microbeads

Ashley Hirtzel

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a report Thursday detailing the dangers of the plastic beads found in face washes and cosmetic products. The study entitled “Unseen Threat: How Microbeads Harm New York Waters, Wildlife, Health And Environment” suggests there is an urgent need to pass a ban on microbeads.

A.G. Eric Schneiderman joined by Mayor Byron Brown, Mayor Paul Dyster, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Congressman Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan.
Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO

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Schneiderman says he is calling for the passage of the Microbead-Free Waters Act. The bill would prohibit the sale of products with microbeads in New York State by 2016. If passed, New York would be the first in the nation to ban the products.

Schneiderman says the issue with the plastic beads is that they are washed down the drain and pass through wastewater treatment plants and into waterways.

“When they get into Lake Erie, Lake Ontario or any other waterway, they serve as little toxin sponges. They soak up toxins and the fish eat them the toxins stay in the fish. These can cause cancer, these can cause birth defects for [the children being born from] the folks that eat that fish. These are a serious, serious health threat that we need to stop,” said Schneiderman.

Across the state, 19 tons of microbeads are washed down the drain each year. The report finds that Lake Erie has the highest concentration of the beads out of all the Great Lakes with roughly 46,000 per square kilometer.

Manufacturers such as Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive have already committed to phase out the use of microbeads in their products. SUNY Fredonia Associate Professor Sherri Mason says for companies that are hesitant, there are alternatives.

“Grape seeds. In this area we have lots of grapes, so we can grind those up and use those. I use a facial scrub that uses ground up walnut husks, sugar, salt, cocoa beans. So, you can choose to wash your face with chocolate instead of washing it with plastic. So, there are natural alternatives and actually what’s happened is that we used to use the natural alternatives and over the last few years we’ve switched from using the natural alternatives to plastic,” said Mason.

Schneiderman says there is no effective way to remove the tiny microbeads from waterways. He says watersheds will have to naturally sanitize themselves, but he says the only solution is to ban the use of them to prevent further contamination.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Protesters joined A.G. Schneiderman in calling for passage of the Micorbead-Free Water Act.

The bill unanimously passed in the Assembly and is currently being considered in the Senate. The legislation has the support of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, as well as a number of lawmakers across western New York, including Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Rep. Brian Higgins, Senator Tim Kennedy, Senator Mark Grisanti and Assemblyman Sean Ryan.