Pa. holding out on plastic microbead legislation


Microbeads — tiny plastic microspheres — are cleaning your teeth and your face, but scientists say they might also be polluting the water supply.

Used in hundreds of products including face washes, toothpastes and cosmetics, microbeads are designed to be discarded down the drain, but wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely filter out the microplastic, with an estimated 8 trillion microbeads emitted into U.S. aquatic habitats per day, according to a recently published study in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal.

Harry Campbell, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Pennsylvania office, said scientists don't yet know the full extent of the microbead issue, but the microplastic materials are prevalent at a growing rate in most national bodies of water, including the Chesapeake Bay.

"The simplest solution is to start at the source, which are consumer and personal care products," Campbell said.

Several states have already moved toward eliminating microbeads, as Illinois, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Maryland, and Wisconsin have all passed legislation to regulate or ban the microplastic.

Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, acknowledged that microbeads are a big issue but said no legislation had been proposed yet to ban or regulate them. He plans on holding a hearing regarding the issue once the state budget is settled, he said.

"We need to get more education on (microbeads)," Gillespie said. "We need to see if there's a way to remediate it before going to an all-out ban."

Federal level: Legislation has also been proposed on a federal level, but Campbell said there's often too many challenges in passing federal laws.

"States certainly have the authority here," he said. "At a certain point, if enough states ban (microbeads), it creates a critical mass. Companies aren't going to create a specialty product for, say, Ohio (if they're the only one not banning it)."

In fact, numerous companies including L'Oreal, Colgate and Johnson & Johnson have already pledged to stop using microbeads in their "rinse-off personal care products," according to AP reports, with natural substances such as ground-up fruit pits, oatmeal and sea salt available as replacements.

The Environmental Science and Technology study warns that these agreements and legislation aren't enough to remove microbeads from aquatic environments.

Campbell said any piece of legislation is only as good as its coverage.

"If we're truly interested in addressing this growing ecological problem, the wording must cover all the bases," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach David Weissman at