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Lawmakers want to keep Ohio waters free of microbeads

By Mark Todd And Matt Hutton • Updated Nov 26, 2015 at 10:01 AM

COLUMBUS — Ashtabula County's state representative has co-sponsored a bill that would make Ohio the latest state to ban microbeads — tiny plastic particles found in personal care products — and keep them out of Ohio's waterways.

"I'm really trying to bring about awareness," said State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, who is sponsoring the bill with State Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid.

The lawmakers introduced legislation late last week.

Microbeads are small, usually less than five millimeters, most commonly used as exfoliants in cosmetics but also found in toothpaste. Microbeads pose a threat of plastic particle pollution because they are so small they slip through filters at sewage treatment plants.

Fish, mistaking the beads for the eggs of other fish, often ingest the particles, which in turn passes along the contamination to wildlife and humans when the fish are eaten, the legislators said in a statement.

"Microbeads are incredibly common in many of our daily routines," Patterson said in the statement. "Recent research has shown that an astounding 8 trillion microbeads a day are rinsed down the drain by Americans. This is a multi-faceted issue that directly affects everything from public health to commercial fishing to our environment."

A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that more than 90 percent of seabirds have pieces of plastic in their systems.

In an interview this week, Patterson said he became aware of the microbead concern "well over a year ago" while attending a session of the Great Lakes Caucus, a gathering of governments and provinces that surround the Great Lakes. A representative from New York spoke who about the threat of microbeads had a big effect on Patterson.

"It just strengthened my resolve to address this issue," he said.

The proposed legislation would ban the manufacture of microbeads in 2017, followed by banning their sale starting in 2018, "giving the industry and consumers the opportunity to adjust to the new regulations," according to the statement.

Also, the bill would require the state to create a consumer education program to teach the public how to properly dispose of products that contain microbeads, as well as bead-free products, according to the statement.

"We want to help people to dispose properly the products they find on their shelves," Patterson said.

Sandy Bihn, executive director of Lake Erie Water Keeper, said taking care of the microbeads is necessary to maintain and improve the lake's quality.

"It’s extremely important. … The things that creep into the environment have long-term consequences,” she said.

The good news, Bihn said, is many companies are already moving away from putting microbeads in their products. She stressed there are other options chemically to achieve the same results and no products will go away as a result of eliminating microbeads. However, as with any process, there are a few stragglers or those who don’t see the environmental impact — which is where the bill could affect change.

“We don’t need to put plastic into our waters,” she said.

Bihn, who referred to Lake Erie as troubled, said the microbeads don’t get filtered in wastewater plants and then have a clear pathway into the broader water source.

"They get into the water and food chain and affect the overall ecosystem of Lake Erie,” she said.

Ohio is one of just a few states adjacent to the Great Lakes that has not yet passed microbead-related legislation, according to the statement from Patterson and Smith.

Manufacturers of personal care products are responding to the issue and "making changes," Patterson said.

"We're moving them in a different direction," he said.

Patterson has addressed other water-related issues, such as algal bloom, during his time in Columbus.

"It's a natural extension of the algal bloom concern," he said. "Water quality is paramount. Everything flows from water. And we are so fortunate and blessed to have those resources."


©2015 the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio)

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