Microbeads – the tiny, abrasive plastic pellets that come by the tens of thousands in bottles of face wash, toothpaste, and more – have been banned in Albany County.
County legislator Bryan Clenahan led the move to ban microplastics in Albany, now the fifth county in the state to enact a ban. The tiny plastic non-biodegradable pellets are used in items including facewash and toothpaste. Areas including the Capital Region and communities along the Hudson Valley are at risk because when the plastics go down the drain, they interfere with wastewater systems, ending up in waterways where they're eaten by fish then make their way back into the food chain.
Travis Proulx is with Environmental Advocates: "This is a pivotal moment. New Yorkers have grown accustomed to the state Senate failing to lead on environmental and public health matters, and what we see is local government stepping up. Efforts to ban the bead have near-universal support. Republicans and Democrats, officials from rural, urban and suburban areas have recognized the dangers are real. Microbeads have already caused significant harm to our waterways, wildlife and infrastructure, and due to their tiny size, it's nearly impossible to clean up what's already gone down the drain, and that's why this is so important, to curb the pollution now, and avoid greater, costlier and more damaging headaches down the line."
The beads are said to attract and absorb persistent pollutants such as PCBs. A report issued in April by the New York Attorney General’s office found that microbeads were present in 74 percent of water samples taken from 34 municipal and private treatment plants across the state.
Sandra Meola, communications and outreach associate for NY/NJ Baykeeper, believes microbeads, like PCBs, will haunt future generations. "We've been using these products, these tiny plastic beads, since the early 90's, and we've just kind of been tracking where they've been going and their abundance in the waters. So they're out there. There are five plastic gyres, which are huge plastic, basically garbage patches in our oceans. There's five of them and they're about the size of Texas. The implications are huge, and yeah, I think this'll bite us. But we're really happy to see that Albany County really took on the lead and banned these products. There are also tons of other natural products that folks can use that we've always used for centuries. Salt, sugar, baking soda, walnut shells, and so on. We hope to see more states, more counties and hopefully in the future a federal bill that would ban these plastic beads consistently so everyone's on the same page."
It’s not the first time Albany County has been something of a Petri dish for progressive legislation. It has also targeted Styrofoam and oil trains. But it’s unclear how effective such prohibitions can be in practice on a local level. Kathy Curtis with Clean and Healthy New York says she’s hopeful a statewide ban could be part of the legislative session that starts in January.
Christopher Goeken is with the New York League of Conservation Voters. "We applaud County Legislator Clenahan and his colleagues for taking the lead and pushing microbeads out of New York county waterways."
Patricia Cerro-Reehil with the NY Water Environment Association: "Microbeads are an unnecessary ingredient in personal care products that are wreaking environmental havoc."
Since July, 11 municipalities in New York have introduced or passed microbead bans. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy will schedule a public hearing before deciding whether to sign the law.
Meantime, New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand continues to lead the call for a national microbead ban.
"The evidence is clear. If left unstopped microbeads have the potential to cause significant ecological damage across our state. We have to remove microbeads from personal care products."