House committee passes ban on plastic beads polluting lakes

Associated Press

January 29, 2015

   

INDIANAPOLIS A bill banning a key exfoliation ingredient in popular cosmetic products passed through an Indiana House committee Wednesday, adding to an effort gaining momentum in other states to protect the Great Lakes.

Tiny bits of plastic known as microbeads are typically found in facial scrubs and toothpaste. Scientists only recently discovered that the particles, which are often too small to see with the naked eye, are flowing by the billions from wastewater treatment plants into the Great Lakes and other water systems.

Microbeads currently make up about 20 percent of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

If passed, the bill would gradually phase out the sale and production of cosmetics containing microbeads starting in 2017 through the end of 2019.

Several states are considering similar legislation, and New York and Illinois already have a ban in place.

Bill sponsor Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said there has been little opposition against the movement since large manufacturers have already started substituting microbeads with natural substances such as ground-up fruit pits, oatmeal and sea salt.

Scientists said the recent discovery was surprising, but they are more concerned about the impact plastic will have on living organisms.

"It's the fact that plastics act as a carrier. It acts as a way to move chemicals from the water into the food chain," said Sherri Mason, an environmental scientist with State University of New York-Fredonia, who spoke at Wednesday's hearing through a webcam.

Mason was the leader of a research team that used special nets to drag the surface of all five of the Great Lakes in 2012 and 2013. The team found elevated levels of several pathogens linked to cancer and birth defects on the surface of microbeads, which are now being found in fish caught for human consumption.

The bill had unanimous support in the committee and goes to the House floor next.