New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand is urging federal regulators to ban microplastics, a move that state environmental advocates are hoping can move legislation forward in Albany.
Earlier this month, Senator Gillibrand sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy asking the EPA to add microbeads and microplastics to a list of Great Lakes contaminants.
The tiny plastic particles, often found in personal care products like shampoo and facewash, can end up in waterways, causing harm to fish and other creatures.
“They just don’t dissolve, so the fish are ingesting them and they’re dying, and it’s going to be a real environmental issue and it will affect tourism, so we have to get these banned,” said Gillibrand.
Research conducted at SUNY Fredonia in 2012 and 2013 shows up to 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. High concentrations were found throughout the Great Lakes.
Professor of Chemistry Dr. Sherri Mason said there’s been evidence that the microbeads from your morning shower can make their way through wastewater treatment systems and end up in waterways. Recent research shows that the particles are found in fish, and then those fish are eaten by waterfowl.
“When we look at yellow perch that we collected over the course of the winter, on average, they had about 8 to 9 pieces of plastic in each fish, and then we look at double-crested cormorants, that eat perch, and we found on average about 44 pieces of plastic in the cormorants,” said Mason. “So again, that kind of evidence that [the plastic] is moving into, as well as bioaccumulating, up the food web.
Dr. Mason’s research has influenced several pushing for a ban at the state level. An effort led by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, however, was defeated in the New York state Senate this past session.
Environmental Advocates of New York was one of the organizations pushing lawmakers to enact a ban.
“The Attorney General as well as our organization were working with both houses of the legislature,” said EANY spokesman Travis Proulx. “Senator Grisanti of Buffalo was the sponsor in the Senate, Assembly Sweeney in the Assembly was his sponsor, and unfortunately, and as is too-often the case in our New York State Senate, good bills go there to die. And we saw that happen this year, and it was shameful”
Proulx said he hopes Gillibrand’s actions will draw more attention to the matter next year.
Christopher Goeken, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at New York League of Conservation Voters, said the personal products industry successfully lobbied lawmakers into stalling legislation that bans microbeads, though some larger manufacturers have already pledged to phase out certain products.
Goeken said he appreciated Gillibrand’s efforts, but doubts a ban would pass a gridlocked Congress.
“Obviously on the Federal level, legislation is not going to happen any time soon with this Congress, so given what the president has said about using his pen to try to affect the change that Congress refuses to act on, this seems like a really great approach to dealing with this serious problem.”
In June, Illinois became the first state to ban microbeads. Senator Gillibrand, a Democrat, said it’s imperative that others follow suit, and a ban is critical to the health of the Great Lakes.
“We use our Great Lakes not only for drinking water, but for all its natural resources. We use them for tourism. They are fundamental to our economy,” said Gillibrand. “And if we pollute the water and all the fish start dying we will lose business and the ability to provide clean drinking water to so many New Yorkers.”