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Legislation gives California the strongest protections in the country

SACRAMENTO – Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed groundbreaking legislation to ban micro-plastic particle abrasives, commonly referred to as “microbeads,” from being used in products such as facial scrubs, soaps, and toothpaste. The legislation, AB 888, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would set up the strongest protections in the country against the use of these unnecessary and toxic micro-plastic beads.

“AB 888 is a comprehensive solution to the growing problem of microbead pollution. A recent study found a staggering amount of micro-plastic pollution in the San Francisco Bay but these beads have also been found in the open ocean, rivers and the Great Lakes,” said Assemblymember Bloom. “Today, California steps forward to lead the nation in environmental protection by banning this pervasive source of plastic pollution. While other states have passed similar regulations, AB 888 was carefully crafted to avoid any loopholes that would allow for use of potentially harmful substitutes. This legislation ensures that personal care products will be formulated with environmentally-safe alternatives to protect our waterways and oceans.”

Microbeads have emerged as a prevalent form of pollution in our waterways and marine environment, contributing approximately 38 tons of plastic annually.  The tiny particles have been found in ocean debris piles, the Great Lakes, and in the Los Angeles River.  A recent study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute found an alarming amount of micro-plastic pollution in the San Francisco Bay. According to the study, the bay is contaminated in greater concentrations than any other U.S. body of water, with at least 3.9 million pieces entering the bay every day.

While tiny, the size of microbeads is actually the biggest problem.  Plastic microbeads used as exfoliants go down the drain. They are generally not recoverable through ordinary wastewater treatment, and thereby get discharged into the environment.  As a result, these plastic microbeads are found in all oceanic gyres, bays, gulfs and seas worldwide, as well as inland waterways.  A single product can contain as much as 350,000 polyethylene or polypropylene microbeads.

Microbeads can have negative health effects on marine life and humans. Most microbeads are not biodegradable and can contain various toxins such as DDT, PCBs (flame retardants), and other industrial chemicals. These toxins can be absorbed by marine life and mammals that ingest the beads, mistaking them for food. Because fish ingest these particles and absorb the toxins in their flesh, many in the scientific community worry about the impacts on the fish, crabs, and shellfish that humans eat. Plastic microbeads pose other direct threats to human health as well. Plastic microbeads used in toothpaste can get stuck in a person’s gums which then collect bacteria and can lead to periodontal diseases. 

A strong coalition of environmental protection groups have united in support of AB 888. These groups include Californians Against Waste, Clean Water Action, Breast Cancer Fund, California League of Conservation Voters, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Water Keeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, and Sierra Club.

"This legislation will stop a major pollutant at its source in California,” stated Stiv Wilson, Campaigns Director of The Story of Stuff Project, a sponsor of the legislation. “Our microbeads bill is a win for the environment and next year, it will be a win for truly green innovation." 

Richard Bloom chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation.  He represents California’s 50th Assembly District, which comprises the communities of Agoura Hills, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hollywood, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Topanga, West Hollywood, and West Los Angeles.

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