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Albany County Legislators Tackle Microbeads

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Microbeads – the tiny plastic pellets that come by the tens of thousands in bottles of face wash, toothpaste, and more – are on their way to being banned in Albany County. 

Proponents of a microbead ban argue it is particularly important to the Capital Region. The tiny plastic beads are too fine to be caught in wastewater treatment plants. The beads are used as scrubbing agents. They are not biodegradale, and billions find their way into the Hudson River and other waterways. Scientists say they're appearing inside fish caught for human consumption. The microbeads are also said to attract and absorb persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs, recognized as a public health threat and already present in the Hudson River.

A report issued in April by the New York Attorney General’s office found that microbeads were present in 74 percent of water samples taken from 34 municipal and private treatment plants across the state. It estimated that up to 19 tons of plastic microbeads enter the state’s waters.

Saima Anjam, environmental health director at Environmental Advocates of New York, says activists are hoping for fast-track passage of Local Law L.  "Unfortunately we haven't seen any action on the statewide level. We haven't seen any action on the federal level. So we're particularly pleased that Albany County Legislator Bryan Clenahan has introduced the bill, and we're really pleased to see the support for the bill."

Here's Albany County Legislator Chris Higgins:   "You know right now, in the Capital Region, we are in the final stages of one of the biggest cleanups that this nation has ever seen, with GE dredging the Hudson River. Now I don't want to necessarily want to equate PCBs and those contaminants with what microbeads necessarily are, but make no mistake about it, microbeads pose a dangerous threat to our water supply, our fish and animal wildlife. Now, I understand there's been a bill pending at the state level for some time, and unfortunately, like this county legislature recently did with the ban of the sale of toxic chemicals in toys, I think it's become necessary that we take the lead to protect the citizens here in our county. Hopefully, that voice, through the passage of this law, will be echoed, and heard, at the state level so that these dangerous substances can be actually addressed through a ban at the state level."

The Microbead-Free Waters Act died in the Senate despite bipartisan support. New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been leading the call for a national microbead ban.  "The evidence is clear. If left unstopped microbeads have the potential to cause significant ecological damage across our state. We have to remove microbeads from personal care products."

Microbead legislation is popping up in roughly two dozen states, including Maine and Vermont. In January, Vermont’s 140 state representatives unanimously passed a bill banning the sale of microbeads in the state by 2018.

Caitlin Pixley, conservation associate with the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter says "The impact that plastic microbeads are having upon our environment is significant and concerning. Microbeads are washed down drains after use and end up in water treatment facilities that cannot filter them out. These plastic particles are then released into our waterways. The Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter applauds County Legislators Clenahan and Chris Higgins for taking action on this issue and we look forward to working with them to make this bill law."

A similar ban was recently signed into law in Erie County.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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