ALBANY – Tiny microbeads used as abrasives in everything from skin care products to toothpaste, which scientists say are polluting Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, would be banned under legislation being proposed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Scientists have warned that the plastic pollutants, which has shown up in studies of Lake Erie, can last for centuries.
Schneiderman called his plan “common-sense legislation” that will reduce the flow of the tiny plastic particles into key waterways of New York.
It would be the nation’s first such legislation calling for a ban of the particles now used in more than 100 consumer products.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act would ban the distribution, sale or manufacture in New York of beauty and other personal care products that contain plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size.
The legislation comes after a group that represents the interests of more than 100 cities in the United States and Canada along the Great Lakes urged federal officials in the two nations to crack down on the use of the tiny plastic particles in consumer products.
They cited a State University of New York at Fredonia study that found the plastic particles in three Great Lakes, with the highest concentration in Lake Erie. Scientists say there are other non-toxic particles companies can use in their products besides the plastic microbeads, some of which are so small they can only been seen under a microscope.
Environmental groups say the products get into waterways from the pipes in consumers’ homes are often not caught by public sewage plants and are a threat to drinking water and fish stocks.
Dave Ullrich, executive director of the Chicago-based Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which represents 111 Great Lakes cities, including Niagara Falls, said the water in the lakes turns over relatively slowly.
The water now in Lake Erie takes about five years to totally replace itself with new water, while Lake Superior can take 200 years. As a result, the microbeads his group is trying to get banned tend to accumulate in the Great Lakes more than other waterways.
“Any action of this nature that can make the right thing happen, namely to prevent new products and getting them out of the system as quickly as possible, is a good thing,’’ Ullrich said in an interview.
He noted his group has written to the 11 companies that use microbeads and have gotten responses from six of them with varying levels of commitments. Ullrich said other states are considering bans, though he believes New York is the first with actual proposed legislation.
Schneiderman’s office said three manufacturers – Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive – have recently agreed to phase out using microbeads in their consumer products.
They said products containing the terms “polyethylene’’ or “polypropylene” on their ingredient list are those with microbeads.