Assembly’s Russell helps pass bill to protect North Country waters from tiny plastic particles
Friday, May 9, 2014 - 5:36 pm

A bill to protect North Country waterways from harmful plastic microbeads used in cosmetic and personal care products has passed in the state Assembly with the support of Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D-Theresa).

Russell’s “River District,” the 116th, includes all St. Lawrence County towns along the St. Lawrence River (Massena, Ogdensburg, Louisville, Waddington, Lisbon, Oswegatchie, Morristown, and Hammond) plus the towns of Canton, Potsdam, Rossie, Macomb, and DePeyster, and northern Jefferson County not including Watertown.

“The North Country relies on natural resources like the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario to drive tourism and economic development,” Russell said. In her statement of support for the bill, Russell said those microbeads have been found in alarming concentrations in some New York waters.

“This sensible legislation nips the problem in the bud before it does serious harm to wildlife and becomes increasingly expensive to fix.”

Russell noted that several companies including Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble have already committed to voluntarily cease the use of plastic microbeads in their products. Other companies, such as Burt’s Bees, use nonplastic alternatives like powdered pecan shells.

Products like facial scrubs, soaps and some toothpastes contain thousands of polyethylene and polypropylene micro-plastic particles, ranging from 50-500 microns, or ½ mm in diameter. Many sewage treatment facilities do not capture floating particles the size of microbeads.

Studies have shown that pollutants like PCBs, DDT, and PBDEs (flame retardants) are likely to be absorbed by plastics like microbeads. When microbeads are eaten by fish, these pollutants enter the food supply, endangering human health.

During the summer of 2012, the 5 Gyres Institute, in collaboration with SUNY Fredonia, collected 21 samples of the lake surface in three of the Great Lakes, Huron, Superior and Erie. These downstream samples contained more plastic particles than any of the over 400 ocean samples the Institute collected. The highest concentrations of micro-plastics were observed in Lake Erie, and accounted for about 90 percent of the total plastics found. Lake Erie flows into Lake Ontario and then into the St. Lawrence River.

The legislation prohibits the sale of products containing plastic microbeads beginning January 1, 2016. Products containing microbeads that are regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration can be sold until January 1, 2017.

“There are numerous natural replacements that can be used in these products without jeopardizing the natural resources that are so vital to our community,” Russell said. “By taking action now, we can preserve the health and vitality of our waters and prevent costly cleanup efforts down the road.”