MAYVILLE, NY – Chautauqua County lawmaker have started the process of considering whether or not to ban the sale of healthcare products that contain microbeads.
On Wednesday night the legislature’s Planning and Economic Development Committee heard from Fredonia State professor Dr. Sherri Mason, who’s been researching the impact that microbeads have had on the ecosystem of Lake Erie and other waterways.
Dr. Mason explained that microbeads are tiny, plastic particles used in healthcare products to help with the exfoliation process. She said that because the microbeads are plastic, they are not biodegradable and are so small that they pass through wastewater treatment facilities. She once they enter our waterways, they can be ingested by animals and because many contain toxic chemicals, including BPA, they are considered harmful.
“These chemicals, while they are incorporated into the plastic material, are not chemically bound to the plastic,” Dr. Mason explained. “BPA got quite a bit of press because of the fact that it’s well known that it leaches out from the plastic. So a soup can, as it’s sitting on a store shelf, if it is lined in plastic, then the BPA from within that plastic will leach into the soup. And this was the biggest concern with baby bottles and so it was technically banned in baby bottles. We also know that when plastic is sitting in the water, it acts as a chemical sponge [absorbing various toxic chemicals that may be present].”
Dr. Mason said that while the micro beads can be harmful to aquatic life, they can also be harmful to humans who may eat fish that have ingested microbeads. And she said her findings have shown that nearly all species of fish that are pulled from the lake have tested positive for containing chemicals associated with ingesting microbeads.
“Every species that we’ve looked at has had plastic in it. Every species,” Dr. Mason said. “All 25 fish species and the double crested cormorant, that predominantly feeds off these fish, have had plastic in it.”
While Dr. Mason said her research illustrates why it is important to ban products containing microbeads as soon as possible, not everyone is convinced. Also speaking last night were representatives from the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), a lobbying group that represents the interests of the cosmetic and health industries. A consultant with the group, Dr. Ian Davies, said he has some concerns with Mason’s findings.
“I think that a lot of the research that’s been conducted, the results have been misinterpreted and have been quite misleading,” Dr. Davies said. “The types of microbeads that have generally been found, there really hasn’t been enough data to link them back to our ingredients. For example, our materials are fragments, and not – in fact – spherical particles.”
The PCPC also submitted a written comments providing a detailed list of concerns they had with the research to be put on the record and reviewed by lawmakers.
County Clerk Larry Barmore also spoke during the meeting, saying such a ban would have to be enforced by his office’s Department of Weights and Measures, which could lead to an additional cost to the county of $60,000 to $75,000 a year. However, committee chairman George Borello of Hanover said that there could be alternative enforcement methods that didn’t involve added cost to government, such as working with watchdog groups as well as interns to keep an eye out for the products.
Borrello, who’s already gone on the record of favoring a ban, told WRFA this was just the first steps in the process – although he favors acting on doing something sooner rather than later.
“I’m hoping that we can put something together to possible introduce next month,” Borrello said. “But at the end of the day its my hope to do our due diligence and create something that is effective. We could very easily create some piece of feel-good legislation that isn’t very enforceable and doesn’t have any effect. I have no interest in doing that. I want to have something that we can actually work with and that gives us the opportunity to reduce the amount of microbeads going into the lake.”
The County Legislature has the option to enact its own ban on the sale of the microbead products, similar to what Erie County has done. It can also approve a motion requesting lawmakers in Albany initiate a state-wide ban.