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New York Sets Precedent By Proposing Nation's First Microbead Ban

Health + Wellness

New York's attorney general this week proposed what could become the nation's first-ever ban on microbeads—the small plastic particles found in beauty and cosmetic products.

Eric T. Schneiderman introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act to prohibit the sale of items that contain microbeads in an attempt to prevent an emerging threat to the Great Lakes. According to Schneiderman, the plastic beads have been found in "alarmingly high levels" in New York's portion of Lake Erie.

Companies add microbeads to facial scrubs, cleansers and other products to help in skin exfoliation, but they can last in the environment for centuries, accumulating toxic chemicals on their surfaces while threatening public health and wildlife.

“When people learn more about this issue, they will be unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads," said Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert K. Sweeney, who accompanied Schneiderman during his announcement.

"I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish."

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has proposed a ban on microbeads, which are found in some beauty and cosmetic products and can accumulate toxicity over time. Photo credit: New York State Office of the Attorney General

The 5 Gyres Institute played a role in the legislation's proposal and already has plans to encourage other states to adopt it. The institute launched a study in 2013 that found high concentrations of small plastic microbeads in the lake that were able to evade sewage treatment. Along with organizations like The Plastic Soup Foundation and Flora and Fauna International, 5 Gyres tried to encourage the likes of Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and L’Oreal to phase out their use of microbeads. With little or no response from the producers of facial scrubs and other products, 5 Gyres decided to take the legislative route.

Now, Schneiderman, 5 Gyres and the other parties will await a decision from legislators in Albany.

"We have strived for decades to reclaim the Hudson River from its industrial, polluted past and we have a cleaner, healthier river as a result," Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said. "These plastic microbeads are an unnecessary and harmful product that do not belong in our waterways and should be phased out of use as quickly as possible.

"This proposed law would be a precedent-setting first step in achieving this goal.”

The Plastic Soup Foundation and 5 Gyres were among the organizations that worked on a smartphone app that allows people to find out if the products they consume contain microbeads. 

“Plastic pollution is insidious—it doesn’t degrade like natural materials and persists for decades, if not centuries in our environment," Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director Roger Downs said.

"New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has set the bar on holding the beauty products industry accountable, and we urge other states around [the] Great Lakes basin and across the country to follow New York’s leadership.”

Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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