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New York's attorney general wants microbead ban

"This common-sense legislation will stop the flow of plastic pollution," said Eric Schneiderman.

By
Brooks Hays
The silvery flecks seen in Crest MultiCare Whitening toothpaste are actually plastic microbeads. Photo by Scott Ehardt/CC
The silvery flecks seen in Crest MultiCare Whitening toothpaste are actually plastic microbeads. Photo by Scott Ehardt/CC

ALBANY, N.Y., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- If you've used a mass market facial scrub in the shower, you've likely rolled microbeads across your skin. You've probably seen them sparkling in a freshly squeezed glob of toothpaste.

If you've ever been swimming in Lake Erie, it's not likely you noticed any microbeads. They're tiny. But they're there, collecting in the millions, and New York's attorney general isn't happy about it.

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Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is currently recruiting state legislators to draft a bill banning the small plastic balls. Research has shown they accumulate in bodies of fresh water. The small size of the exfoliants allow them to bypass water treatment plants, and environmentalists contend they can end up in the guts of fish -- and potentially in the stomachs of fish-eating humans, too.

This isn't the first time Schneiderman has tried to outlaw microbeads. He launched a similar effort in 2014, but his proposed bill never made it to the floor of the Republican-controlled Senate for a vote after clearing the all-Democrat House with 131 yeas and zero nays. Schneiderman reached out to lawmakers this week, encouraging them to again take up the cause.

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"This common-sense legislation will stop the flow of plastic pollution from ill-designed beauty products into our vital waters, preserving our natural heritage for future generations," Schneiderman said in a statement.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has expressed support for Schneiderman's efforts; she is also pursuing a federal ban on the tiny synthetic balls.

"When plastic microbeads leach into our water, they attract toxins that harm fish and birds and get passed on to humans," said Gillibrand. "We need to protect New Yorkers, our water, and our wildlife from dangerous pollutants and damage caused by microbeads."

So far only Illinois has successfully banned the beads, but some major cosmetics producers have pledged to voluntarily phaseout the plastic balls, including Johnson & Johnson, L'Oréal and Procter & Gamble.

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