In the News  Archive

Microbeads should be banned, period

April 30, 2015
Lake Placid News - Editorial

Who comes up with things like microbeads?

If only someone in a lab or board room had vetoed the idea of adding tiny plastic granules to make skin products and toothpaste more abrasive. Apparently those involved in these decisions weren't thinking it all the way through, or didn't care enough that eventually these products get washed down drains, and that whatever's washed down drains and isn't filtered out by wastewater treatment plants ends up in rivers and oceans - and fish bellies.

On Monday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a study showing almost three-quarters of 34 wastewater treatment plants tested could not filter out microbeads, even those with "microfiltration" equipment. The village of Lake Placid's plant was among that majority, meaning many thousands of tourists and residents there have unknowingly been rinsing microbeads downstream every time they showered or brushed their teeth, possibly harming the AuSable River trout and other, less famous wildlife.

These plastic beads are "made of various chemical compounds and petroleum products, and generally do not break down to inert things in the environment," Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan told the Enterprise.

Also, these plastic grains absorb toxins around them - PCBs, for instance - turning themselves into little poison pills for fish and other animals that eat them. They last for decades and repeatedly break down into smaller and smaller pieces, getting into more animals along the way.

Microbeads "are turning up everywhere, even in Arctic sea ice," according to a statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They've also been found in quantity in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Mohawk and St. Lawrence rivers and the Finger Lakes.

Manufacturers of beauty products may not initially have known about the danger, but they do now that microbeads have made national news. That, of course, means they should immediately stop using them, but the public cannot afford to wait on corporations' consciences to kick in. Our state and federal governments must ban microbeads, and soon.

In doing so, lawmakers must be careful not to be fooled by deceptive bills. For instance, New York's state Senate is considering a bill that would ban synthetic microbeads but not "biodegradable" ones. The problem, environmentalists say, is that none of these beads is truly biodegradable. They may break down into smaller pieces and finally go away decades later, but until then they can do a lot of harm.

The Assembly passed a better bill, proposed by the attorney general, this week. Unless both houses pass identical bills, it cannot become law. We urge senators to choose the Assembly version and get rid of this senseless form of pollution.

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