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Minnesota and Wisconsin Lawmakers Consider Ban on Microbeads

microbeadsThis legislative session, Minnesota and Wisconsin lawmakers are taking on a tiny problem that could have huge ramifications to the environment if left unchecked. Both States are considering bans on the inclusion of miniature pieces of plastic, called microbeads, in personal care products such as toothpaste, exfoliating soaps, and hand sanitizers. Illinois and New York already have instituted bans and more than 10 additional States are considering bans.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recently compiled a report called "Plastic microbeads in Minnesota" for the State Legislature. The report was used by legislators to write Minnesota House File 541 and Senate File 507. The bills prohibit the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads. If approved, the bans would go into effect at the end of 2017 and 2018. Wisconsin's Senate Bill 15 and Assembly Bill 15 are similar to the Minnesota bills. However if passed, Wisconsin's respective bans on the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads would go into effect in 2018 and 2019.

Microbeads are able to get into waterways when they are rinsed down the drain and into the sewer system. Since the beads are so tiny, they're able to slip through wastewater treatment plants before they are discharged into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Once the microbeads enter the water, they are able to absorb toxic chemicals, which are then transferred to fish and wildlife when the beads are ingested. The Alliance for the Great Lakes says the concentration of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in microbeads collected from the Great Lakes are up to twice the amount measured in the oceans, which makes microbeads of particular concern to the upper Midwest. The miniature plastics can also contain detectable levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PAHs and PCBs are toxic environmental contaminants that persist in the environment. A 2013 study by Dr. Lorena Rios-Mendoza, a University of Wisconsin–Superior Chemistry Professor, found plastics in the stomachs of 18 percent of the fish she studied from Lake Superior. In addition to concerns for the health and safety of wildlife, there are concerns about the contaminants absorbed by microbeads will enter the human food chain via fish and other animals.

Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, The Body Shop, and L’Oreal recently announced that they will phase out the use of microbeads in their products. Shoppers can avoid purchasing products that include microbeads by searching ingredient lists for “polyethylene” or “polypropylene.” There is also a Beat the Microbead app that allows consumers to scan a product's barcode to check for the plastic particles.

If you have any questions concerning the content of this newsletter,
please contact Heather Syverson at 701-364-9111 or Heather.Syverson@ae2s.com.
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