Washington, D.C. — On March 4, U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Gerald Connolly (D-VA) introduced legislation, U.S. House Bill 1321, that will “prohibit the sale of cosmetics containing synthetic plastic microbeads” nationwide as of Jan. 1, 2018.
The bill passed through committee in mid-May and is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.
These tiny additives that are used in cosmetic removal scrubbers, toothpaste, and other abrasive personal hygiene products have been found in significant quantities throughout the Great Lakes as a result of them being washed down bathroom drains.
Several cosmetic companies have already voluntarily pledged to discontinue their use, citing environmental concerns. A few states, including Illinois, California, New York, and Indiana have already proceeded with their own legislation banning their use. There is also pending legislation in Canada to follow suit.
In saltwater systems, up to 35 percent of the fish sampled were found to have ingested microbeads, which can plug up their digestive systems. This creates a false sense of fullness, causing them to not feed on normal prey, leading to malnutrition.
Dr. Sherri Mason, of the State University of New York at Fredonia, has sampled the Great Lakes and cited heavier concentrations near municipalities. She says that the real danger of the microbeads, usually less than 5 millimeters in diameter, are not specifically that small fish eat them, but that the plastic provides a medium that chemical contaminants such as PAHs and PCBs can adhere to.
This may result in the bioaccumulation/magnification of toxins up the food chain if numerous small fish are consumed by larger fish. PCBs are still present in the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie, prompting EPA consumption guidelines for certain fish species from specific areas.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife Lake Erie Fisheries Research Units sampled fish in 2013 to look for the presence of microbeads in their digestive systems but did not find any inside fish collected from Lake Erie that year. Subsequent sampling in 2014 has no shown substantial evidence of plastic ingestion to date, according to results from the Division of Wildlife.