Portman Bill to Protect Lake Erie from Harmful Plastic Microbeads Headed to the President for Signature

December 18, 2015 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced that his Microbeads Free Waters Act of 2015 is now headed to the President for signature. Portman’s legislation would address plastic microbeads which are found in common household products and are detrimental to wildlife and human health.

Because of the detrimental effect microbeads have on our natural resources, companies have already agreed to phase them out of production. This bipartisan legislation would implement a commonsense way for companies across the country to do so on a level playing field by establishing a definition of microbeads and setting uniform dates for the prohibition of manufacture and sale of products. Portman coauthored the Senate version with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and the House version was authored by Congressmen Fred Upton (R-MI-06) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06).

“Plastic microbeads are devastating to wildlife and human health, and I’m pleased our bill will now be law so we can phase them out in a way that’s fair to Ohio companies and keeps them on a level playing field with their competitors,” Portman stated. “Lake Erie is not only a precious natural resource, but also essential for Ohio jobs and tourism and our bill takes appropriate steps to protect this important asset for Ohio.”

Microbeads are tiny synthetic plastic particles used as an abrasive in many personal-care and beauty products, such as facial scrubs, soaps and toothpastes. When consumers use products containing microbeads, the microbeads don’t dissolve, but instead are rinsed down the drain. Because of the small size and buoyancy of microbeads, they escape treatment by sewage plants and are discharged into lakes and rivers.

The accumulation of microbeads in lakes and rivers has a detrimental impact on wildlife and human health as well. Once in the water, microbeads, like other plastics, can absorb persistent toxic chemicals commonly found in waterways and can be mistaken for food by small fish and wildlife. Studies have shown that fish and wildlife of all sizes consume plastic, raising serious concerns about the impacts of microbeads on aquatic species. Fish and other organisms living in waterways mistake microbeads as food and will eat microbeads. The microbeads don’t provide any nutrition and actually attract toxins. The beads then accumulate in the gut of the fish and can even get into the circulatory system. As other predators eat those fish, the toxins contained in the microbeads get concentrated in the food chain and could cause harm in humans who are eating those larger fish.

Lakes Erie and Ontario are disproportionately affected, having the highest concentrations of microbeads. A report by scientists from the State University of New York (SUNY) found Lake Erie averaged about 46,000 particles of plastic per square kilometer, compared to about 6,000 to 8,000 particles over the same area in lakes Superior and Huron and about 17,000 particles in Lake Michigan.

This legislation is supported by the Personal Care Products Council, the Alliance for Great Lakes, the American Chemistry Council, Revlon, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Consumer Healthcare Products Associations, The Plastics Industry Trade Association