|
|
News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Amy Gehrt: Clean faces, dirty waterways

    • email print
      Comment
  • Walk down an aisle of facial cleansers or body washes and you’ll see dozens of products containing microbeads. The small, often colorful balls are mostly designed to exfoliate skin, although they also can be found in personal care products such as toothpaste, sunscreen and cosmetics, too.
    If you’ve ever used one of the products in a slow-running drain, however, you’ve probably seen the remnants left behind and noticed those tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic don’t exactly break down in the water.
    And, while you may feel like microbeads are making your skin smooth, soft and clean, they are making our bodies of water dirtier — a lot dirtier — once they are washed down the drain.
    Marine biologists and environmental scientists have been sounding the alarm for a while now, warning that billions of the beads are flowing into the nation’s waterways, where, according to a New York Environmental Protection Bureau report, they act as sponges for toxic chemical pollutants, posing a threat to the food chain.
    The recent discovery of the plastic particles inside fish caught for human consumption provided proof to back up experts’ fear that fish and other marine life might mistake microbeads for food. They’ve also been discovered in birds that eat fish, so it’s not much of a stretch to think that means many of us may also have microbeads in our own stomachs, too. The tide seems to be turning, however. This month, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to enact a microbeads ban. Under the new law, manufacturing such products would be prohibited by the end of 2018, and selling them would be illegal by the end of 2019.
    “Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., said in a statement touting the new law. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them.”
    Similar legislation is being considered in California, New York and Ohio, but passage is meeting more resistance in those states than in the Land of Lincoln.
    However, ultimately that may not matter. Wednesday, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., introduced a bill that would ban microbeads nationwide by 2018.
    Surprisingly, while one would expect manufacturers to be fighting such legislation, they were actually willing to cooperate with lawmakers in Illinois — speeding up the process and making it proceed far more smoothly than expected.
    “To have that happen in one year is rare,” Jen Walling of the Illinois Environmental Council told The Associated Press. “I was not predicting we’d get it done at all.”
    Page 2 of 2 - After three months of negotiations, however, a deal was struck. Mark Biel of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, which represented product manufacturers during those negotiations, told The Associate Press the reason was simple: substitute ingredients — such as sea salt, ground-up fruit pits and oatmeal — are easily available.
    “I just concluded that maybe this was one of those issues where it would be smart to try to work something out,” he said.
    Several companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, Colgate and Unilever, have already announced plans to begin working on new formulations — although they warn that it can take years to get the revamped products to the market. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that, if large-enough numbers of people stop buying products with microbeads, the process may miraculously progress more quickly than anticipated.
    So, while I’d absolutely prefer to leave the scaly skin to the creatures of the sea, I won’t be buying any products containing microbeads — and I hope you won’t, either.
    There are already plenty of environmentally friendly options available. My body wash, for instance, uses pomegranate seeds as an exfoliant. A loofah or sponge can also make the skin soft and supple — leaving you with a clean conscience, and making the nation’s waterways a bit cleaner, too.
    —--
    Amy Gehrt is the city editor of the Pekin (Illinois) Daily Times. She may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com, or on Twitter @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times or this publication.

        calendar