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Sharing a release from the Alliance for the Great Lakes
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Microbeads Critical Step in Reducing
Harmful Plastic Pollution in the Great Lakes
CHICAGO – The introduction of microbead-free waters
legislation in the Illinois Legislature takes an important step forward in
reducing harmful plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.
The legislation responds to a rising tide of concern among
researchers and the public about the impact of microbeads – synthetic plastic
particles used as an abrasive in personal-care products – on our waterways and
wildlife. The bill, SB 2727, would prohibit the production, manufacture,
distribution and sale in Illinois of any personal-care product containing
Microbeads are commonly found in hundreds of products,
including facial scrubs, soaps, shampoos and toothpastes, where they are used
as a synthetic alternative to natural abrasives such as ground almonds, oatmeal
and pumice. The Illinois bill, introduced March 14, is similar to legislation
newly introduced in New York and California. New York, a fellow Great Lakes
state, in February became the first in the nation to propose legislation for
When consumers use personal-care products such as facial
scrubs and toothpaste containing microbeads, the beads are rinsed down the
drain and into our sewer systems. They are designed to be single-use components
with no possible opportunity for reuse or recycling. Because of their small
size and buoyancy, microbeads escape treatment by sewage plants and are
discharged into rivers, lakes and oceans. Consumers can determine if their
personal-care or beauty products contain microbeads by checking the product
ingredient list for “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.”
“We applaud state Sen. Heather Steans for putting forth this
bill and proactively addressing this emerging threat to the Great Lakes and all
Illinois waters,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes Research Manager Olga
Lyandres. “These products are unnecessary and do not belong in our Great Lakes,
especially when many readily available alternatives exist.”
Once in the water, microbeads, like other plastics, can
absorb persistent toxic chemicals commonly found in waters across the state and
can be mistaken for food by small fish and wildlife. Scientific studies have
shown the concentration of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on microbeads
collected in the Great Lakes to be up to twice that measured in the oceans, and
to also contain detectable levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); both
chemicals are toxic environmental contaminants that persist in the environment.
Studies have shown that fish and wildlife of all sizes consume plastic, raising
serious concerns about the impacts of microbeads on aquatic species and on up
the food chain.
“We must keep these contaminants out of Lake Michigan so
they don’t end up in our drinking water or fish dinners,” said Steans.
“Our research in 2013 surveying microplastics in Lake
Michigan has shown enormous concentrations of these plastic microbeads on the
lake surface. These plastic beads, traced to personal-care products, resemble
fish eggs and easily end up the environment. Why are we corrupting our
fisheries at the base of the food chain for a vanity product where natural and
market viable alternatives already exist?” said Stiv Wilson, Five Gyres
Institute associate director.
"We are very pleased with the proposed action of the
Illinois Legislature to ban microbeads,” said Keith Hobbs, mayor of Thunder
Bay, Ontario and chairman of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities
Initiative. “The Cities Initiative strongly believes that the personal-care
products industry must promptly halt producing goods with microbeads so we can
eliminate their entry into the Great Lakes."
Several leading beauty-product manufacturers – Proctor &
Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, The Body Shop, and
L’Oreal – have all made recent commitments to phase out the use of microbeads
in their products.
Formed in 1970, the
Alliance for the Great Lakes is the oldest Great Lakes organization in North
America. Our mission is to: conserve and restore the world's largest freshwater
resource using policy, education and local efforts, ensuring a healthy
Great Lakes and clean water for generations of people and wildlife.More about the Alliance for the Great Lakes is
online at www.greatlakes.org.