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California will attempt to have strongest protections in the country

SACRAMENTO – A proposed ban of mirco-plastic particle abrasives, commonly referred to as “microbeads,” from being used in products such as facial scrubs, soaps, and toothpaste passed the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee late yesterday on a 6-0 vote.  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 additives.

“Toxic microbeads are accumulating in our rivers, lakes and oceans at alarmingly high levels. We can and must act now,” said Bloom.  “Continuing to use these harmful and unnecessary plastics when natural alternatives are widely available is simply irresponsible and will only result in significant cleanups costs to taxpayers who will have to foot the bill to restore our already limited water resources and ocean health.”  

Microbeads have emerged as a pervasive form of pollution in our waterways and marine environment, contributing approximately 38 tons of plastic annually.  The tiny particles are prevalent in ocean debris piles, the Great Lakes, and were found in the Los Angeles River last year.  Most mircobeads are not biodegradable and absorb various toxins such as DDT, PCBs (flame retardents), and other industrial chemicals and are ingested or absorbed by a variety of marine life and other mammals.  Because fish ingest these particles and absorb the toxins in their flesh, many in the scientific community also worry about the impacts on the fish, crabs, and shellfish that humans eat.

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.

Fish species that humans harvest have been known to eat micro-plastic particles and the toxins absorbed in those plastics transfer to the fish tissue.

Plastic microbeads pose direct threats to human health as well. Plastic microbeads used in toothpaste have been known to get stuck in a person’s gums which then collect bacteria and can lead to periodontal diseases.  Humans eat fish and bivalves that have eaten microplastics which carry known dangerous toxins.

“This is not a problem without a solution.  Plastic microbeads are not essential to personal care products.  Safe and natural alternatives are available such as walnut husks, pecan shells, apricot shells, and cocoa beans.  Some brands already use environmentally safe alternatives.  However, there are still a number of companies who are holding out.  By passing this bill, we will take the first step in phasing out these damaging products completely in California and paving the way for other states and countries to follow our lead” Bloom added.

AB 888 has now passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.  It now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee where is must pass before going to the full Assembly for a vote.

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, Pacifica Palisades, Santa Monica, Topanga, West Hollywood, and West Los Angeles.

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