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Legislation Banning Microbeads Products Passes Unanimously


Word from Washington: A bill to ban microplastics is on it's way to President Obama's desk.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced the passage of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, a bill that would ban the manufacture, sale, or distribution in interstate commerce of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads. The Sloop Clearwater is also getting involved in the battle against microbeads.

The bill will now go to the President’s desk to be signed into law.   But the damage has already been done.  Research conducted at SUNY Fredonia in 2012 and 2013 shows up to 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. High concentrations were found throughout the Great Lakes.

Microbeads, those tiny plastic pellets that come by the tens of thousands in bottles of face wash, toothpaste, and other products, have compounded the pollution problem.

Gillibrand has been one of the staunchest opponents of microplastics.   “These plastic particles attract pollutants like PCBs already in the environment and concentrate them to very dangerous levels. Fish and birds eat them and they ingest all of the pollutants stuck onto the microbead. This disrupts the food chain.  It contaminates huge portions of the wildlife population. The evidence is clear. If left unstopped microbeads have the potential to cause significant ecological damage across our state.”

Sloop Clearwater joins the "battle against the beads" thanks to a grant that will launch a Microplastics Pollution Prevention Project in the spring of 2016.

Dave Conover, Education Director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, says a $10,000 grant from the Malcolm Gordon Charitable Fund will help in education and sampling of the Hudson River to look for signs of microplastic pollution, which poses severe risks to ecosystems.  The program will combine field, in-class and onboard opportunities for students to study and learn ways to prevent that pollution.   "These are pieces of plastic that are generally smaller than 5 millimeters, some of them come from microbeads that are included in personal care products like facial scrubs and even some toothpastes, others may come from clothing, fibers from clothing that can wash into the waterways, and it may also come from plastic trash that breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, and these particles can get into the waterways and impact Hudson River life, like plankton and fish."

Environmentalists are worried the beads will take their toll on the state’s fish populations, hurting the commercial and recreational fishing industries, tourism industry, and the general economic well-being of the New York’s coastal communities.  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 have entered New York state’s waters.

During the sailing season, Clearwater serves the Hudson River with unique education sails and in-class workshops for school groups from Manhattan to Albany. Clearwater, founded by Pete Seeger, has been serving the Hudson River with unique environmental education programs since 1969.

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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