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Washington — The House on Monday approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, that would phase out the production and sale of tiny bits of plastic called microbeads in personal-care products, starting in 2017.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act, co-sponsored by Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, passed the House on Monday afternoon by a unanimous voice vote.

“I would urge all my colleagues to join me in ending this pesky problem. They’re tiny plastic, but big-time pollution,” Upton said on the House floor.

“As someone who grew up on Lake Michigan and represents a large chunk of the Michigan coastline, I understand firsthand how important it is to maintain the beauty and integrity of our Great Lakes and all of our water systems. We’re going to fight any activity that puts our beloved Great Lakes in jeopardy.”

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.

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.

Pallone highlighted studies conducted in the Great Lakes that showed “alarmingly high levels of microplastic.”

“Numerous natural biodegradable alternatives to plastic microbeads already exist in commerce and product-supply chains, including apricot seeds, walnut shells and pecan shell powder,” Pallone said on the floor.

Several personal-care companies have already announced plans to phase out plastic microbeads in their products in favor of natural exfoliants, Pallone added.

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 matter.

“This bipartisan legislation will preempt all state and local laws related to microbeads in cosmetics, which will ensure certainty for manufacturers and other job-creators across the country,” Upton said.

The ban on manufacturing microbeads would begin 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. The ban on sales of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads would begin in July 2019.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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