A.G. Schneiderman Issues Report Showing Microbead “Toxic-Sponges” Systematically Passing Through Treatment Plants Across New York State
First-Of-Its-Kind Study Reveals Presence Of Microbeads In 74% Of Samples Taken From Wastewater Treatment Plants Across State
Microbeads Entering Waters Across State From Lake Erie To Long Island Sound
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has released a first-of-its-kind report demonstrating that microbeads, tiny plastic abrasives that are added to many beauty and personal care products, are systematically passing through wastewater treatment plants across New York State and entering bodies of water. The microbeads contained in many personal care products are washed down the drain when used and end up at wastewater treatment plants. When bits of plastic pollute lakes and oceans they act as sponges for toxic-chemicals, attracting these chemicals to their surfaces and threatening the health of wildlife when the plastic bits are ingested. The study, conducted by the Attorney General’s office with the help of Dr. Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, examined samples provided by 34 municipal and private treatment plants across the state. The study,Discharging Microbeads to Our Waters: An Examination of Wastewater Treatment Plants in New York, detected microbeads in 74% of the samples, across plants of various sizes, treatment types, and locations. The report is accompanied by five fact sheets detailing regional findings in Western New York, Central New York, the Mid-Hudson, Northern New York and Downstate.
Last year, Attorney General Schneiderman sent a program bill to the legislature, the Microbead-Free Waters Act, to prohibit the distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads less than 5 millimeters in size.
“Today’s report confirms that from Lake Erie to the Long Island Sound, microbeads, a harmful form of plastic pollution, are finding their way into waters across New York State,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York has been at the forefront of national progress when it comes to combating plastic pollution, and we need to continue this leadership by passing legislation that will prevent microbeads from contaminating our waters, and threatening the health of both New Yorkers and their environment.”
In late 2014, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office initiated a study to determine whether plastic microbeads were being discharged from sewage and wastewater treatment plants into water across the state. With assistance from Dr. Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonia, the New York Water Environment Association – a nonprofit, educational organization for New York’s water quality professionals — and operators at 34 municipal and private treatment plants from across the state, collected samples from treated waste water for analysis. The study detected microbeads in the effluent samples submitted by 25 of the 34 treatment plants, suggesting that microbeads are being discharged by most of New York’s more than 600 wastewater treatment plants. The study provides direct evidence that microbeads are being released into bodies of water across New York State, including the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, the Mohawk River, the Delaware River, the Long Island Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean. Microbeads were found in samples provided by treatment plants operating in the following 17 counties: Albany, Chautauqua, Columbia, Delaware, Erie, Essex, Greene, Kings, Monroe, Nassau, Niagara, Orange, St. Lawrence, Tompkins, Warren, Wayne, and Westchester.
There is variation in the shape and size of microbeads found in various consumer products. Products can contain spherical or speckled microbeads, irregularly shaped microbeads, or a combination of both. The overwhelming majority of plastic abrasives in personal care products are irregular microbeads, with only 6% being spherical or speckled. For testing purposes, the study only looked for the easily identifiable spherical or speckled microbeads. Because the study found microbeads in these small-volume, one-time samples, while only testing for 6% of the universe of microbeads, the results suggest that many more irregular microbeads are also slipping past treatment and into New York waters.
The findings also suggest that the problem cuts across regions of the state and that more rigorous waste water treatment employed at some treatment plants may not be effective at removing microbeads.
As a whole, the study results affirm that the only effective way to halt the plastic pollution of New York’s waters by microbeads is to eliminate plastic microbeads in beauty and personal care products and thus prevent these pollutants from entering treatment plants in the first place.
“I applaud the work of the Attorney General to build upon the scientific understanding on the transportation of microbeads from the tube to the environment,” said Dr. Sherri Mason, Professor of Chemistry at the State University of New York at Fredonia, a researcher on the forefront of microplastic pollution. “The field of microplastic pollution is rapidly emerging and this research provides critical information that treatment plants are not designed to capture microbeads and passage through treatment plants is likely pervasive.”
“Wastewater treatment plants across the state are committed to protecting New York’s water resources and we believe that stopping tiny microbeads from ever making their way into the wastewater treatment plants protects public health, the quality of New York State waters and marine life,” said Patricia Cerro-Reehil, Executive Director of the New York Water Environment Association. “We applaud the leadership of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman undertaking this groundbreaking study and thank the operators across the state who volunteered to provide data and demonstrate how necessary it is to pass the The Microbead-Free Waters Act.”
Plastic microbeads from personal care products have been found in alarmingly high levels in the New York surface waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and can persist in the environment for centuries. Last May, Attorney General Schneiderman released a report documenting the threat posed by microbeads, finding that 19 tons of microbeads are being washed down the drain by unsuspecting New York consumers each year. Microbeads are commonly found in more than 100 products, including facial scrubs, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, where they replace ground walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials as an abrasive.
The Attorney General’s Microbead-Free Waters Act (S3932-2015) would prohibit the distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads less than 5 millimeters in size. The bill was greeted by widespread expressions of support from the environmental advocacy, scientific and sport fishing communities across New York State and versions of the bill are currently being considered in the Assembly and Senate.