Jul 2, 2015

Wisconsin governor signs bill banning microbeads from Great Lakes

Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation on Wednesday that bans manufacturers from using tiny plastic beads in products after studies showed they are turning up in the Great Lakes and other waterways.

The small bits of plastics — known as microbeads — are added to products because of their abrasive qualities. They are flushed down sinks and toilets and eventually find their way into streams, rivers and lakes.

Scientists say the beads carry harmful environmental effects because they resemble fish eggs. Fish and other aquatic life eat them, absorbing toxins and potentially harming shorebirds — and possibly humans who consume the fish.

The bill signed by Walker was a rare example in recent years of bipartisanship on an environmental issue, with Republicans and Democrats both jumping in to co-sponsor the legislation.

It will phase out the manufacture and sale of products that contain microbeads. The synthetic beads will be phased out of personal care products by Dec. 31, 2017. The products will be fully phased out, including for over-the-counter drugs, by Dec. 31, 2019.

Other states have instituted bans, including Illinois.

Manufacturers are also voluntarily phasing out microbeads from products, or have already done so. They include Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and L'Oréal, the world's largest cosmetics company.

Two Republican legislators initially circulated the bill — Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez) and Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma).

"It really offends me that these little plastic beads are in all of this stuff and we're sending it into our waterways," Cowles told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in January.

Cowles said in a statement Wednesday: "This legislation creates a level playing field and requires all of the personal care products industry to remove microbeads and protect our state's water bodies."

Research on the prevalence of the microbeads includes work by Lorena Rios Mendoza, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. In 2012, she found beads in water samples in Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

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