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Source: Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Few weigh in on microbeads ban

COUNTY: Legislature will decide on proposed ban next week.


Posted: December 2, 2015
Originally Published: December 1, 2015

Supporting a ban on plastic microbeads was the topic of a public hearing at Tuesday's Niagara County Legislature meeting.

The hearing, which drew one speaker, took place on a proposed law that would stop the selling of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads within the county. Microbreads are a synthetic alternative ingredient, found in more than 100 personal cosmetic products, including some exfoliants, cleansers and daily scrubs.

The local law being proposed by the legislative minority references the danger microbeads pose to Niagara County's water and environment. The plastic particle, measured to be 5 millimeters or less in size, are too small to be filtered out at the multiple sewage treatment facilities in Niagara County, without "costly improvements."

Brian Smith, a Tonawanda resident, spoke on behalf of the Citizen Campaign for the Environment, a group of 80,000 members from around Western New York.

Smith gave two reasons why CCE is supporting Niagara County's proposed ban on the sale of microbead products. The first is the pollution to the Great Lakes, which threatens the health of fish, wildlife and people.

"We know that Niagara County's water, particularly the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, are adversely impacted by plastic microbeads," Smith said. "Since none of our treatment plants were ever designed to remove these plastic microbeads, we can assume that most plants are allowing microbeads to discharge."

Smith said once the beads enter waterways, "they act as tiny toxic sponges," collecting toxic chemicals present in water.

"When fish consume these beads, they are passed up the food chain to larger fish and wildlife," he said. "Ultimately they can end up on our dinner plates."

Second, Smith said, CCE supports the local law because "we simply cannot wait for Albany to address this problem."

"We need to act locally to drive the state to take action," he said.

New York state, according to Smith, was the first in the nation to introduce legislation on the issue almost two years ago.
Since that time, at least eight states and six counties in New York have passed a ban, while the issue remain in the state Senate for a vote.

Entered into the minutes, but not read as part of the hearing, was a letter of support from Jennifer Nalbone, environmental scientist for the Environmental Protection Bureau of the state Attorney General.

"When products containing microbeads are used in the home by unsuspecting citizens, the plastic is rinsed down the drain and into our sewer system," the letter reads. "In a 2014 Office of the Attorney General report, we determined that almost 19 tons of microbeads are rinsed down the drain annually across New York state, over 400 pounds annually in Niagara County alone."

The letter also referenced a 2015 study that took samples from 34 wastewater treatment plants across the state. Microbeads were slipping past treatment at 74 percent of the facilities, including Niagara County Sewer District No. 1, that inadvertently releases particles into the Niagara River during normal operations.

"This is not surprising because wastewater treatment plants are simply not designed to remove tiny plastic particles from wastewater before the processed effluent is discharged to our waters," Nalbone wrote.

Legislator Jason Zona, D-Niagara Falls, after the public hearing, said he had hoped a few more groups would have been in attendance to speak, but said they will be submitting letters of support on banning microbeads.

"It seems like it's a pretty clear-cut issue," he said. "I don't think any legislator on either side is opposed to protecting our waters."

The legislature will be voting on the matter at Tuesday's meeting. Zona said based on the conversations he has had with some legislators, he doesn't "anticipate any issues" with the passage.

"Ultimately we do want the state to be the one to put the ban in effect," he said. "It should be a state-wide issue, but until Albany acts, we'll do it on the county end."

The local law will become null and void on the day statewide or federal legislation goes into effect banning microbead products. Once filed with the state Security of State's Office, the local law will take effect 180 days later.

In other news:

The county held its annual proposed 2016 budget public hearing, which drew no speakers. The county will vote on the budget Tuesday.

The budget proposes a full value rate of $7.38 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That's a 28-cent or 3.7 percent decrease from 2015. For property valued at $100,000 the tax bill would be reduced by $28.

Contact reporter Rikki Cason at 439-9222, ext. 6252.