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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Bill to Ban Microbeads Clears Legislature

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Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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By Lookout Staff

September 8, 2015-- Assembly member Richard Bloom's bill banning tiny plastic beads from use in personal care products could be on its way to the governor for approval within days, his office announced last week.

AB 888 would impose the nation's toughest restrictions on the microscopic beads used as exfoliants in skin care, toothpaste and other personal care products, said Meredith McNamee, Bloom's spokesperson.

Last week, the bill passed in the state Senate by a 24-14 vote. It now goes back to the Assembly this week for a concurrence vote on amendments before moving on to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature or veto. A concurrence vote is usually considered routine.

The bill was opposed by the personal care products industry. Last year, a similar bill by Bloom, AB 1699, died in the Senate. Bloom introduced AB 888 in February.

Backed by dozens of environmental groups and water-quality agencies, AB 888 was amended several times before finally winning Senate approval this past Friday. 

“After two years of hard work from a broad coalition of public health and environmental organizations, elected officials and the public, AB 888 has successfully passed off the Senate floor,” said Bloom.

Used in products such as facial scrubs, soaps, and toothpaste, microbeads have wound up in the environment, including rivers and oceans, where they are consumed by fish, according to studies cited by Bloom's office.

The additives contribute approximately 38 tons of plastic pollution annually, McNamee said.

“The tiny particles are prevalent in ocean debris piles, the Great Lakes, and were found in the Los Angeles River last year,” she said.

“Most mircobeads are not biodegradable and absorb various toxins such as DDT, PCBs (flame retardants), and other industrial chemicals and are ingested or absorbed by a variety of marine life and other mammals,” McNamee added.

Once fish ingest the particles and absorb the toxins into their flesh, other animals that eat the fish, including humans, might be harmed, she said.

A worldwide effort to ban microbeads started in 2013, when Beat the Microbead, an environmental group, launched a website and online crusade. Studies on the accumulative effect of microbeads on the environment are ongoing, the website said, but scientists are worried about the prevalence in which the tiny plastic particles are showing up in waterways, oceans and sea life.

Because microbeads usually end up in people's drains and are often not removed during water-treatment processes, several urban water suppliers support the bill, as does the California Association of Sanitation Districts, which sponsored the legislation.

Plastic microbeads used in toothpaste pose a direct threat to human health, McNamee said, as they have been known to get stuck in a person's gums and collect bacteria. That can lead to periodontal diseases, she said.

“California is a national leader on environmental issues,” said Bloom. “It is my hope that this legislation, which will create the strongest protections in the country, will be used as a nationwide standard for eliminating harmful micro-plastics from personal care products.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to stop this pervasive source of plastic pollution.”

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