Microbeads Banned in US Waters

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Good news for the Chesapeake Bay, and watersheds around the nation!

Earlier this month, Congress voted to ban microbeads in common personal hygiene products, such as soaps, toothpastes and facial cleansers. The bill – the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015- was passed by the House of Representatives first, and then the Senate on December 18. President Obama signed the bill into law yesterday.

Microbeads, found in many health and beauty products, cause major problems in watersheds. The beads, which are rinsed down the drain with use, are too small to be filtered out in wastewater treatment plants, and end up directly in our waterways. These beads, which are plastic, adhere to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in streams and estuaries, and are toxic to marine animals. Toxins make their way up the food chain, and have been found in significantly high concentrations in fish in watersheds such as the Great Lakes.

Nine states, and several municipalities around the country, have already passed bans on products with these beads, but this is the first nationwide bill of its kind. With the Microbead-Free Waters Act, all production of microbeads will be phased out of personal care products by July 1, 2017, with production phase out of microbeads in over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics to follow in July 2018 (with a ban on sales enforced by July 2019).

To read more about plastic debris in the Chesapeake Bay, CityLab has a post on Julie Lawson’s (director of Trash Free Maryland) efforts to document  plastic concentrations in Bay waters. Lawson’s team has found plastic debris from what they suspect comes from film associated with mulching on watershed farms. If or when the lab working on these water samples confirms this, our region will likely face a fresh set of challenges, revolving around the phase-out of harmful products from the agricultural sector.

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Detroit News

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