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Federal ban on plastic microbeads will help safeguard our water

Growing concern over the dangers of plastic microbeads contained in many personal care products has resulted in landmark federal legislation designed to protect our environment.

The House and Senate have approved legislation phasing out microbeads starting in 2017. The president should sign this bill into law. When he does, consumers will no longer have to pore over labels to determine whether a product contains polyethylene or polypropylene, the plastics in microbeads.

The tiny plastic particles are used as an abrasive in soaps, body washes and other products. Once considered an advance in cleansing, microbeads have proved to be an insidious threat.

The microbeads eventually get washed down the drain and into watersheds. Microbeads not only don’t dissolve, they sop up chemicals such as pesticides, and make their way into the food chain when they are consumed by small animals.

Studies have shown microbeads present in all five Great Lakes, with Lakes Erie and Ontario having the highest concentrations.

One by one, states and localities, including Erie and Chautauqua counties, began passing legislation to ban products containing microbeads. These were all admirable efforts, but the threat required more than a piecemeal approach.

The federal ban would prohibit the manufacture of products containing plastic microbeads as of July 1, 2017. It would phase out the sales of them over the next two years. Some cosmetics manufacturers have already been planning to get rid of microbeads. The new law will give the rest plenty of time to adjust.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who well understands the struggle to keep our waterways free of pollutants, called microbeads “devastating to wildlife and human health.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., another champion of clean water, said, “The Great Lakes have survived many a foe – severe pollution, oil spills, discharge from refineries, zebra mussels and attempts to steal our water, just to name a few.”

Microbeads pose an outsize threat to the environment. Congress merits praise for agreeing on a unified approach to protecting our water.