House Votes To Ban Tiny Plastic Microbeads That Are Polluting Waterways


People stand underneath the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City, Mich., to watch the setting sun. Federal scientists and engineers will present a six-month forecast on resurgent Great Lakes water levels, which have recovered from a lengthy low period that damaged the shipping and recreational boating industries. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Dangerous microbeads found in cosmetics and hygiene products like toothpaste and body wash could soon be a thing of the past in the United States. The House of Representatives voted this week to ban these tiny plastics, leaving it now up to the Senate to approve a federal measure.

“It is our responsibility to implement a nationwide ban on plastic microbeads, and spur a transition to non-synthetic alternatives,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) in a statement. Pallone introduced the bill in March. “House passage is an important step towards putting a stop to this unnecessary plastic pollution, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to see this much-needed legislation become law,” he said.

The House passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 by voice vote Monday, legislation which prohibits the sale or distribution of cosmetics containing microbeads. These tiny particles can be found in lotions, makeup, soap, toothpaste, and other cosmetics, as they hold exfoliating properties. But microbeads have in the past few years come under fire from politicians and environmentalists alike. Research has found that microbeads can pollute waterways after they are washed down the drain and into rivers and oceans, affecting aquatic life.

A recent study found that zooplankton, a tiny ocean animal eaten by small predators like krill, shrimp, and fish, ingest microbeads. Ingested plastic could deprive animals of nutrients and get lodged in their stomachs, according to a 2013 study found in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Moreover, these plastics can absorb polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which have been associated with cancer in humans.

Illinois was the first state to ban microbeads in 2014, and since then, at least six other states have done the same. As the bill makes its way up the Senate, members of the higher house are already backing the bill. “I’m glad the House passed this important legislation today, and I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to follow their lead as soon as possible,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) in a statement.

Meanwhile, personal care giants like Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive and L’Oréal have said they will stop their use of microbeads, according to published reports. In any case, if the Senate approves the house bill, the ban on this pinhead pollutant that has been found by the millions in major waterways — including the Great Lakes — would take effect in 2018.