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Environmentalists want to ban microbeads in Tompkins County

Ellen Abbott
Seventy percent of Cayuga Lake tested positive for microbeads

Some Ithaca residents are starting a grass roots effort to get products that contain microbeads banned in Tompkins County.  

A group called Plastic Tides has been trying to raise awareness about plastic pollution for three years. The effort has involved some statewide research last year that showed 70 percent of water samples including Cayuga Lake, Oneida Lake, the Erie Canal and Mohawk River, contained microbeads.  

These microscopic pieces of plastic are imbedded in all kinds of cosmetic products, like soap, toothpaste and facial scrubs. The microbeads end up in local waterways, traveling down the drain through wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic Tides co-founder Christian Shaw says what really worries him is that these beads concentrate pollutants that are already in the water. 

“For instance you’ve got a dilute amount of different persistent organic pollutants and things like that that are in the lake already, and then these microbeads take them and concentrates them a million times more than the water around them. And that little bead can be eaten by a fish or a duck or certain zoo plankton, and phytoplankton are eating smaller pieces of plastic, and that’s how these toxins are going to accelerate up the food chain,” said Shaw.

As summer turns to fall, Plastic Tides is taking that awareness mission a step further, asking Tompkins County lawmakers to take action and institute a microbead ban.

“We are not working with any lawmakers at this point, we are just trying to reach out to them and express that we want a ban on all products that contain microbeads," said Shaw.

They wouldn’t be the first. Erie County has already passed what is believed to be the most comprehensive ban on microbeads in the country. There, more than 100 consumer products will be removed from retail stores, starting next year. After a proposal for a statewide ban stalled in the New York State Senate, Shaw says putting local bans in place may be the best way to attack the problem of microbeads in New York State waterways.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.