U.S. Senate passes ban on plastic microbeads

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — After unanimous approval by Congress, a bill to phase out the production and sale of tiny bits of plastic called microbeads is on its way to the president’s desk.

The Senate on Friday passed the bill by voice vote, and the House passed it earlier this month. The legislation was co-sponsored by Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey.

“Christmas has come early for Lake Michigan and all of our nation’s waters. These pesky pieces of plastic may be tiny, but they are causing big time pollution,” Upton said in a statement. “Microbeads’ days are numbered, and that’s good news.”

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 in July 2019.

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.

“Microbeads pose a very real danger to our Great Lakes and threaten our fish and wildlife populations,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill is an important step in keeping our wildlife protected and our waters safe.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also applauded the measure. “Synthetic plastic microbeads amplify the effects of pollution and threaten wildlife in the Great Lakes ecosystem,” he said. “I’m pleased that my Senate colleagues are sending this vital measure to the president’s desk to ensure our Great Lakes continue to thrive.”


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