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President Obama Signs Microbead Ban

capitalA new federal law aims to reduce the amount of plastic in our nation's waterways. President Barack Obama signed H.R. 1321, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, into law in late December. The legislation prohibits the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetics and other products containing tiny plastic beads, effective July 1, 2017. Additional product-specific manufacturing and sales bans are scheduled to go into effect in 2018 and 2019.

Microbeads became a hot topic in 2015 as lawmakers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and more than 10 other States considered legislation to ban the inclusion of miniature pieces of plastic in personal care products such as toothpaste, exfoliating soaps, and hand sanitizers. Illinois and New York previously instituted bans.

Microbeads are able to enter waterways when they are rinsed down the drain and into the sewer system. Since the beads are so tiny, they pass 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 the contaminants absorbed by microbeads will enter the human food chain via fish and other animals.

If you have questions about microbeads and your wastewater treatment facility, contact Scott Schaefer, PE, AE2S Wastewater Practice Leader, at Scott.Schaefer@ae2s.com.

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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