President Barack Obama signed into law Monday a bill championed by southwest Michigan Congressman Fred Upton to phase out the production and sale of tiny bits of plastic called microbeads.
The Senate on Dec. 18 passed the bill by voice vote, and the House passed it earlier this month. The legislation was co-sponsored by Reps. Fred Upton, the St. Joseph Republican who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey.
“It’s a banner day for Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes -- we now have a bipartisan law on the books to cleanse dirty microbeads from all our nation’s waters,” Upton said in a Monday statement. “Microbeads may be tiny plastic, but they are wreaking big time havoc in our waters. We came together, Republicans and Democrats, and got the job done.”
The Microbead-Free Waters Act would ban the manufacture of microbeads starting in July 2017, followed by a ban on manufacturing over-the-counter drugs and on sales of cosmetics with microbeads to start in July 2018. A ban on sales of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads would begin July 2019.
The synthetic particles have been found in relatively high concentrations in the Great Lakes where they absorb pollutants, raising concern over their consumption by fish and other wildlife that could eventually enter the food chain.
The little pieces of plastic are often used as abrasive exfoliants in toothpastes and facial cleansers, ending up in waterways after they rinse down the drain and flow through the filtration systems at wastewater treatment plants.
At least nine states and numerous local jurisdictions already have bans on microbeads in personal-care products, creating a patchwork of differing laws on the synthetic particles.
Upton’s bill on microbeads was one of several matters that Michigan’s Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress agreed they would push in a common agenda to maximize Michigan’s clout on Capitol Hill — a development that political experts declared was significant among the states. In May, Democratic Sens. Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township introduced companion legislation to Upton’s bill to ban the sale of synthetic plastic microbeads used in facial cleansers.
“At a time when gaining widespread bipartisan consensus is anything but easy, I am especially glad my bill to cut down on unnecessary pollution and protect our waterways is finally law,” said Pallone, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the bill’s co-sponsor.
Dan Wyant, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, has called the rate of microplastic particles detected in Lakes Erie, Huron and Superior “quite concerning” at 43,000 per square kilometer because of their potential to enter the food stream. The rate was nearly 10 times higher in samples collected in Lake Erie downstream of two major Ohio cities, Wyant added.
“Microbeads is a clear issue. It's a clear threat. And there's a clear, simple answer, and we support the phaseout of microbeads and a federal approach,” he said in testimony before Upton's committee.