Microbeads may be contaminating Lake Erie

FILE - In this 2012 file photo provided by 5gyres.org, a sample of "microbeads" collected in eastern Lake Erie is shown on the face of a penny. (AP Photo/Courtesy 5gyres.org, Carolyn Box, File)

ALBANY, NY (WIVB) — Tiny beads frequently put in hand lotion to make our hands cleaner are being linked to polluting Lake Erie.

That’s what NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is claiming. His office has completed a study showing the microbeads are showing up by the millions in the Great Lakes. Microbeads are millimeter sized abrasives that are used in beauty products like hand soaps.

Researchers from Schneiderman’s office and from SUNY Fredonia received permission from 34 different waste water treatment plants around the state to test the water at the discharged of the plants. At most of those plants, microbeads were detected getting through the waste water treatment process and going into fresh water lakes and streams.

Microbeads were found at the discharges of:

  • Village of Silver Creek Treatment Plant
  • Erie County Southtowns Advanced Water Treatment Plant
  • Town of Grand Island WWTP
  • Erie County Sewer District 6 WWTP in Lackawanna
  • Erie County Sewer District 2 at Big Sister Creek
  • Niagara County Sewer District 1

The concern is that these are plastic beads that can absorb toxins and be ingested by aquatic wildlife.

Jennifer Nalbone, an environmental scientist for the State Attorney General’s Office, said they’re working with companies and are pleased with progress so far.

“There are many companies that have already voluntarily committed to eliminating plastic microbeads and other products, and instead are using natural alternatives such as ground walnut shells,” she said. “There’s a great willingness in the industry to be good stewards and not contribute to plastic pollution to our environment.”

Monday marks the start of Earth Week, and Schneiderman is hoping the New York Assembly brings up for a vote his Microbead-Free Water Act, which would ban the use of microbeads that are less than five millimeters in size.

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