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Sleeping beauty’s toxic secret

New York state is the first in the U.S. to propose legislation to ban the use of microbeads in beauty products because of their toxic threat to fish and water.


New York state is the first in the U.S. to propose legislation to ban the use of microbeads in beauty products because of their toxic threat to fish and water.

The tiny plastic particles are commonly found in shampoo, facial scrubs and toothpaste marketed for abrasive, exfoliative action. But the particles in these sandpaper-like textured gels are showing up in high levels in the New York waters of Lake Erie, and can persist in the environment for centuries, researchers say.

Introduced on February 11, 2014 by New York State Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, the Microbead-Free Waters Act would prohibit the production, manufacture, distribution and sale in New York of any beauty product, cosmetic or other personal care product containing plastic particles less than five millimeters in size.

The size and chemicals of these beads cause them to be sifted out at sewage treatment plants and end up in the ocean. 

“When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads. I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish,” said Sweeney, who is also the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair.

In 2012, a team of researchers that included scientists from the State University of New York at Fredonia discovered alarming levels of microbeads in the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Erie.

Once in the water, microbeads, like other plastics, can attract and accumulate certain toxic chemicals commonly found in waters across the state, and can be mistaken as food by small fish and wildlife. Scientific studies have shown that fish and wildlife of all sizes consume plastic.

Following the proposal of the new Bill, cosmetics giant L’Oréal announced that it would be discontinuing microbeads in its products.

The new Bill was proposed on behalf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

Natural alternatives to plastic beads are products like walnut shells and ses salt.


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