Legislation to ban mirco-plastic particle abrasives, commonly referred to as “microbeads,” from being used in products such as facial scrubs, soaps, and toothpaste passed the California State Assembly last week on a 58-11 vote. The legislation, AB 888, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would set up the strongest protections in the country against the use of these unnecessary and toxic additives.

“Today’s vote on the Assembly floor is a testament to the hard work and relentless dedication by the numerous environmental and public health organizations and local governments who have joined together to fight pollution in our rivers, lakes and oceans,” said Bloom. “While we have much more work to do to get this legislation through the Senate and ultimately signed by Governor Brown, our coalition feels strongly we are well on our way to setting a national standard in eliminating these toxic additives from personal care products.”

Stiv Wilson, Campaigns Manager for The Story of Stuff Project, one of the chief sponsors of the legislation, said the ban is a result of two years worth of work that shows Californians won’t stand for an industry perpetuated problem.

“Today we are one step closer to eliminating a major source of plastic pollution at the source, before it has a chance to enter our waterways or our oceans,” added Blake Kopcho, Campaign Manager for 5 Gyres, also a sponsor of the legislation.

Microbeads have emerged as a pervasive form of pollution in our waterways and marine environment, contributing approximately 38 tons of plastic annually. The tiny particles are prevalent in ocean debris piles, the Great Lakes, and were found in the Los Angeles River last year. Most mircobeads are not biodegradable and absorb various toxins such as DDT, PCBs (flame retardents), and other industrial chemicals and are ingested or absorbed by a variety of marine life and other mammals. Because fish ingest these particles and absorb the toxins in their flesh, many in the scientific community also worry about the impacts on the fish, crabs, and shellfish that humans eat.

While tiny, the size of microbeads is actually the biggest problem. Plastic microbeads used as exfoliants go down the drain. They are generally not recoverable through ordinary wastewater treatment, and thereby get discharged into the environment. As a result, these plastic microbeads are found in all oceanic gyres, bays, gulfs and seas worldwide, as well as inland waterways. A single product can contain as much as 350,000 polyethylene or polypropylene microbeads.

Fish species that humans harvest have been known to eat micro-plastic particles and the toxins absorbed in those plastics transfer to the fish tissue.

Plastic microbeads pose direct threats to human health as well. Plastic microbeads used in toothpaste have been known to get stuck in a person’s gums which then collect bacteria and can lead to periodontal diseases. Humans eat fish and bivalves that have eaten microplastics which carry known dangerous toxins.

“Scientists estimate that about 471 million plastic microbeads are released daily in San Francisco Bay alone and are contaminating the marine ecosystem. The problem could be eliminated if manufacturers used non-plastic alternatives, such as clay, wax, nut shells and other natural materials that are both available and effective,” added Andria Venture, Toxics Program Manager at Clean Water Action, who also sponsored the bill.

“This is not a problem without a solution. Plastic microbeads are not essential to personal care products. Safe and natural alternatives are available such as walnut husks, pecan shells, apricot shells, and cocoa beans. Some brands already use environmentally safe alternatives. However, there are still a number of companies who are holding out. By passing this bill, we will take the first step in phasing out these damaging products completely in California and paving the way for other states and countries to follow our lead” Bloom added.

Californians Against Waste, Clean Water Action, Breast Cancer Fund, California League of Conservation Voters, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Water Keeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, and Sierra Club, are a sample of the many other groups in support of the bill.

AB 888 must now pass the State Senate before going to Gov.Jerry Brown for his consideration.

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