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Ban On Microbeads Gaining Steam

Today, California Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica is introducing legislation that would ban the sale of products containing microbeads. Earlier this week, New York State introduced similar legislation.

Microbeads are those little beads of plastic in face wash and other products, meant to exfoliate the skin. But after they go down the drain, they end up in lakes and waterways where they stay for centuries, leaching chemicals and sometimes getting into the food chain.

The New York legislation is based on research into levels of microbeads in the Great Lakes by professor Sam Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

New York state assemblyman Robert Sweeney is sponsoring the New York legislation to ban microbeads, and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the issue.

Interview Highlights: Robert Sweeney

On the environmental impact of microbeads 

“In both salt water and fresh water, primarily wherever there might be sewage treatment plants that empty into a body of water, you’re almost certainly going to find these microbeads, because they get, you know, washed down the drain. They may be down the drain, but they’re not gone. They go right through the sewage treatment plants, which are not equipped to deal with them, and end up in our waterways, where, because they are plastic, they will be pretty much forever.”

“They don’t look like foreign matter to fish. They’re very tiny. They actually look a little bit like other fish’s eggs, and so fish eat them. The microbeads, as they go through this whole process through the sewage treatment into waterways, can become coated with any toxins that might be in those waters, PCBs and other things. They float, they’re buoyant, and so fish eat them, and other things eat the fish. And so all of a sudden, you’ve introduced these microbeads, possibly with accompanying toxins, into the food chain.”

On anticipating industry push back against the bill

“I can tell you with past experience with similar types of bills that, yeah, we will absolutely get a lot of push back. In fact, we have gotten a call from a lobbyist representing the microbead manufacturers that wants to come in and talk to us. But the experience of the California legislator is something that I have experienced also whenever we’ve proposed something, especially with regard to chemicals or similar types of products. There is a very active lobby effort out there, supported by the manufacturers of these products, who simply do not want to change the way they do business. And that becomes a problem with some legislators. Typically, in New York state, a bill like this would pass probably, and I expect it to pass rather easily in the assembly. But in the state Senate, which might be a little more receptive to the arguments made on the other side, it becomes problematic.”

On a possible national change if New York bans microbeads

“Years ago, California passed legislation on flammability standards in furniture, and what happened, because California is such a big state, like New York is a big state, is the manufacturers simply accommodated all their products, they made all their products in a way to meet the California standard on flammability. And I think, you know, with a state the size of New York, and maybe if some other states join in, what will happen is the manufacturers will change their entire product line. They’re not going to try and sell a product with one formulation in New York and another formulation in, you know, Delaware or wherever. So I suspect what would happen is the manufacturers would simply change the way they make the product and do that nationwide.”


  • Robert Sweeney, New York State assemblyman who is sponsoring legislation to ban microbeads.

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