Water Quality: House Passes Microbead Ban Bill on Voice Vote
By Amena H. Saiyid

Dec. 7 — Legislation banning the manufacture, sale and distribution of plastic microbeads that are “intentionally added” to toothpastes, face washes and other cosmetics is now headed to the Senate after the House approved it on a voice vote Dec. 7.

The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (H.R. 1321) would ban, beginning July 1, 2017, the manufacture of these tiny round plastic beads used as exfoliants in face washes and toothpastes. A year later, the ban would apply to the manufacture of over-the-counter drugs as well as sale of rinse-off cosmetics containing microbeads. The bill also would ban the sale of over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads, starting July 1, 2019 (link to bill: http://ow.ly/VC41u).

The ban also would prohibit the use of all alternatives and would apply to any “intentionally added” plastic microbeads defined in the bill as “any solid plastic particle that is less than five millimeters in size and is intended to be used to exfoliate or cleanse the human body or any part thereof.”

Sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the bill's author, H.R. 1321 was sent to the House floor on Nov. 18 (2015 WLPM 47, 11/26/15).

The House bill has 35 other co-sponsors that include 31 Democrats and four Republicans.

H.R. 1321 has a counterpart (S. 1424) in the Senate that was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), but it seeks to ban sale and distribution of microbeads only and not their manufacture.
Prior to H.R. 1321's passage, Pallone called on his colleagues to vote in favor, saying “we must put a stop to this unnecessary and avoidable pollution” from plastic microbeads that wash into drains, escaping capture by wastewater treatment and end up in the nation's waterways.

Likewise, Upton also urged passage, saying the bill has the support of the lawmakers in both chambers that represent the Great Lakes region. “There is huge interest in getting this bill to the President.”
Upton noted that this bill would make a difference because “we have told the manufacturers to stop making them.”

Pallone lauded the industry for its cooperation in voluntarily agreeing to phase out the exfoliants and other rinse-off products that contain microbeads.

Bill Removes Patchwork of Laws
The Personal Care Products Council that represents Johnson & Johnson, lauded the efforts made by Pallone and Upton to engage the industry in writing the bill and avoiding a patchwork of laws.
“The House bill is aimed at the proliferation of conflicting state and local restrictions that create unnecessary disruption and confusion for both consumers and companies,” said Lezlee Westine, the council's president in a Dec. 7 e-mailed statement. She reiterated that research by independent scientists and nongovernmental organizations shows that cosmetics microbeads make up a tiny fraction of the plastic microbeads found in all types of industrial uses that contribute to marine plastic debris. “At the same time, our member companies take very seriously their role as environmental stewards. As a result, companies have voluntarily committed to replace solid plastic microbeads,” Westine said.

The American Chemistry Council termed H.R. 1321 “a sensible national standard” for phasing out plastic microbeads. “H.R. 1321 is an important step to ensure we have one sensible, national standard for phasing out the use of solid plastic microbeads in personal care products across America. We look forward to working with members of the U.S. Senate in hopes that this legislation will quickly become law,” the chemistry council said in a Dec. 7 statement following the bill's passage.

It is backed by environmental groups such as 5 Gyres, Riverkeeper and the Alliance for Great Lakes. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents the publicly owned wastewater sector, applauded House passage of the bill saying it is “an important step towards increased collaboration among key stakeholder groups to improve our nation's water quality.”
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