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Energy and Commerce Committee Examines Harmful Effects of Plastic Microbeads

May 1, 2015
Press Release

Bipartisan Bill to Protect Waterways Builds on New Jersey Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, welcomed New Jersey Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury) as a witness at a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing to examine the harmful effects that the plastic microbeads found in many cosmetic products are having on the country’s waterways.  These small bits of plastic, often used as exfoliants in personal care products like face wash, soap, and toothpaste, can slip through water treatment systems after they are washed down the drain.  As a result, these microbeads often end up contaminating local streams, rivers and larger bodies of water.

Earlier this year, New Jersey joined Illinois as the second state to ban the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads.  In his opening statement, Congressman Pallone explained, “Our legislation builds on efforts already moving forward in many states, including a law banning plastic microbeads in my home state of New Jersey.”

In March, Ranking Member Pallone and Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). introduced bipartisan legislation H.R. 1321, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which would prohibit the sale or distribution of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads.  The bipartisan bill would ban the sale or distribution of cosmetics products containing plastic microbeads effective January 1, 2018.

“Many people buying these everyday products are unaware of the damaging effects they are having on the environment,” said Pallone.  “But since these personal care products are being washed down the drain and, eventually, reaching our waterways, we must make sure that they don’t contain synthetic plastic that will ultimately pollute our environment.  This is unnecessary pollution, and we have a responsibility to stop it before it’s too late.”

Senator Greenstein was invited by Pallone to testify before the Committee.  In her testimony, Senator Greenstein stated, “In New Jersey, much of our drinking water supply is drawn from local waterways like the Delaware or Passaic rivers, and so we, too, have our issues with microplastics.”

Senator Greenstein noted that once the presence of microbeads became known, she co-authored bipartisan legislation to eliminate them.  The bill passed unanimously in the New Jersey Senate and by an overwhelming margin in the Assembly. Indiana, Maine and Colorado have since enacted similar legislation, joining New Jersey and Illinois.

Scientists have found evidence of microbeads in numerous bodies of water in the United States, including increasingly in the Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of freshwater.  In addition to contributing to the buildup of plastic pollution in waterways, microbeads can often be mistaken by fish and other organisms as food.  If consumed by fish, the chemicals found in synthetic plastic microbeads can then be passed on to other wildlife and humans.