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Drawing A Bead On Microbeads

Pollution: Illinois enacts nation’s first law to ban tiny plastic spheres in personal care products

by Cheryl Hogue
June 16, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 24

Illinois is outlawing the teensy plastic scrubbing beads added to some facial washes and other personal cleansing products.

Credit: 5 Gyres Institute
A researcher filtered the beads in each of the vials shown from these J&J facial cleansers.
Three face-cleaning products alongside glass vials containing the plastic microbeads that were filtered from them.
Credit: 5 Gyres Institute
A researcher filtered the beads in each of the vials shown from these J&J facial cleansers.

Gov. Patrick J. Quinn III (D) signed legislation last week that will ban the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads. The law applies to plastics that measure less than 5 mm in any direction and are used in products to exfoliate or cleanse. Both houses of the Illinois General Assembly passed the legislation unanimously.

Elected officials in the Land of Lincoln acted after researchers skimming plastic bits from the Great Lakes collected spheres of the same size as the scrubbing beads. Although personal care products are made to safely wash down the drain, sewage treatment plants aren’t designed to remove the minute beads.

Researchers suspect the plastic spheres may adsorb persistent toxic substances from the Great Lakes. Small fish and other aquatic animals could mistake the beads for food and eat them. The toxics then could get released into their bodies and thus enter the food chain.

State Sen. Heather Steans (D), a sponsor of the ban legislation, suggests Illinois has kicked off a trend among states to ban the beads. “I’m optimistic that we’ve started a nationwide movement to protect not just the Great Lakes but other bodies of water,” she says. Lawmakers in California and New York are also considering legislation to ban the sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads (C&EN, March 3, page 36).

Before the Illinois law kicks in, companies have years to eliminate the plastic microspheres from their products. The law requires manufacturers in the state to stop adding the beads to products by the end of 2018 and bans sale of items with the microplastics at the end of 2019.

Many personal care product makers have previously pledged to phase out the use of microspheres, including Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.



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