On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would phase microbeads out of toothpastes, face scrubs and other cosmetic products by 2018. Finally.
Microbeads have long been criticized by environmental advocates, who say the tiny plastic pieces are harmful to fish. Mother Jones explains:
Microbeads are so small that they aren't caught by most water treatment plants, so they wind up in lakes, streams, and oceans… the beads, which can resemble fish eggs, are mistaken for food and ingested by fish and other marine animals. The plastic also acts as a sponge for toxins, soaking up pesticides, phthalates, and heavy metals and carrying them through the food chain. Tuna and swordfish are turning up with microbeads in their stomachs.
And microbead pollution is widespread—in the trillions of tons, per day.
They're not so good for people, either. Last year, some dentists started finding tiny pieces of plastic stuck in their patients' gums. "I’ve been seeing these blue particles flush out of patients’ gums for several months now. So has the co-hygienist in our office. So have many dental hygienists throughout the United States and Canada who have consulted with each other and realized that we have a major concern on our hands," dental hygienist Trish Walraven wrote in a blog post.
The concern is that the microbeads will allow other types of bacteria into the gums, which could lead to gum diseases like gingivitis (the American Dental Association said last year that no "clinically relevant dental health studies," said the microbeads pose a health risk).
The new law would go a step further, making the production and sale of microbeads illegal everywhere. The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and and Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey).
"As someone who grew up on Lake Michigan and represents a large chunk of Michigan coastline, I understand firsthand how important it is to maintain the beauty and integrity of our Great Lakes,” said Upton. Pallone added, "Most people who buy personal care products that contain microbeads are unaware that these tiny bits of plastic seep into waterways, threatening the environment and ultimately our health. Our bill is a bipartisan and commonsense solution."
Environmental groups also seem happy with the vote:
If you're wondering if your favorite product has microbead, you can check out this list from Beat the Microbead. In general, anything with the ingredient Polyethylene is guilty.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.