Senate panel advances ban on plastic beads polluting lakes

 

March 6, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS Indiana moved closer Thursday to banning a key exfoliant in cosmetic products, a crusade gaining traction nationwide to protect water resources from plastic pollution.

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.

Senate Commerce and Technology Committee members voted 6-0 to advance the measure, which would gradually phase out the sale and production of cosmetics containing microbeads starting in 2017 through the end of 2019.

New York and Illinois already have a ban in place and several states are considering similar legislation this year, including Wisconsin and Indiana.

The Indiana measure, which advanced through the House last month, has yet to receive any opposition, mostly because major manufacturers have already started substituting microbeads with natural substances such as ground-up fruit pits, oatmeal and sea salt.

Microbead pollution is a recent discovery, found by a research team that used special nets to drag the surface of all five of the Great Lakes in 2012 and 2013. Scientists now report that anywhere from 1,500 to 1.1 million microbeads can be found per square mile in the Great Lakes, making up about 20 percent of the lakes' plastic pollution.

"It's different from large plastics in the water. This you can't see," said bill sponsor Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend. "The hidden killer you might say."

The pollution isn't the only problem. Scientists have found elevated levels of pathogens linked to cancer and birth defects on the surface of microbeads, which are now being found in fish caught for human consumption.

"We've got to stop putting poison in our water because it's the only water we have," Bauer said.

The proposal will now advance to the full Senate for consideration.

 

Associated Press