Erie County becomes first in state to enact protective measure
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Wednesday by Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke (7th District), elected officials, representatives of the attorney general's office and environmental advocates at Wilkeson Pointe on Lake Erie to sign into law Local Law 8-2, a law prohibiting the sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads in Erie County.
Microbeads are a synthetic alternative ingredient to such natural materials as ground almonds, oatmeal and pumice. They are added to more than 100 personal cosmetic products, ranging from shampoos and toothpastes to body and facial cleansers.
Poloncarz said these synthetics pose a serious threat to Erie County's ecology and environment, as they are rinsed down household drains and then pass through wastewater treatment facilities to enter local waterways, collecting and spreading pollutants and harming fish and other aquatic life. Local Law 8-2, which Burke sponsored in the Erie County Legislature, is the first local law in New York to address this growing environmental issue.
"We hold our natural spaces and our waterways in trust for future generations, and we must do all we can today to protect them. Microbeads are small bits of plastic that add up to big problems for our environment - problems that no one envisioned when these products appeared on store shelves - but are now apparent as these plastics build up in our waterways and in the chain of life in Lake Erie," Poloncarz said. "The accumulation of billions of these tiny plastic particles in our waterways and in Lake Erie pollutes our environment and threatens fish and the other organisms that ingest them, disrupting the food chain and poisoning our water bodies.
"With this local law, Erie County is leading the way in New York state in protecting our residents and our environment. I thank Legislator Burke for his leadership in sponsoring this law, and I join him in his commitment to preserving clean, healthy waterways in Erie County and Western New York."
Burke added, "The people of Erie County deserve fresh, clean water. We are fortunate enough to live along the largest fresh water reserve in the world, and we must preserve the water quality here for ourselves and future generations."
The new law, which will go into effect 180 days after it is filed with the New York secretary of state's office, defines microbeads as "any intentionally added plastic particle measured to be five millimeters or less in size used to exfoliate or cleanse in a personal care product."
Research by the 5 Gyres Institute has shown that one personal care product can contain more than 300,000 microbeads, and also indicates Lake Erie and Lake Ontario have the highest concentrations of these plastic particles among all the Great Lakes.
Once microbeads enter the environment, there is no known way to remove them. Microbeads are not biodegradable, are about the same size as many fish eggs, and find their way into the food chain when fish, turtles and birds mistakenly consume them. These toxins then accumulate in these animals and can potentially reach humans who eat fish and wildlife from the Great Lakes.
The Erie County Department of Public Works' Division of Weights and Measures will have sole jurisdiction to enforce the law, which levies civil penalties of $2,500 per day for each violation for the first offense and $5,000 per day for each violation for the second offense. Additionally, Erie County residents will be able to monitor any vendors still carrying microbead-containing products after the 180-day period has expired and report those vendors to email@example.com.