A Democratic proposal to ban the sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads may not doomed after all.
Republicans on the Monroe County Legislature's Agenda/Charter committee last night referred the measure to the county administration for further study. Members of the GOP caucus have said that the issue should be handled at the federal level, and it appeared they'd reject the legislation. Similar bills have been passed in Erie and Chautauqua counties with Democratic and Republican support.
But a couple of things happened yesterday that may have affected the vote's outcome. For one, County Executive Maggie Brooks received an award from the Water Environment Federation — an organization of water-quality professionals — recognizing her commitment to clean water through legislation, public policy, and government service. If her allies in the Lej outright killed a major water-quality improvement proposal, the optics would have been bad.
And Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, a Democrat, sent a letter to Brooks in support of the Dems' proposal. He forwarded copies of the letter to the Monroe County Legislature, the New York State Association of Counties, and the New York State County Executives Association. Brooks is NYSAC's president, and the letter will draw attention to how she handles the legislation. The county bans will, by design, create an uneven regulatory regime across the state, which could force state lawmakers to act on bills for a statewide ban of products containing microbeads.
In the past, Republicans have referred Democratic legislation to the administration as a way to bury it. But occasionally the proposals re-emerge in an altered form, either from Brooks or from a Republican legislator. And it's starting to feel like the latter scenario is the likely one; the county has cooperated with the State Attorney General's Office to measure the amount of microbeads passing through Van Lare waste water treatment plant.
Tiny plastic microbeads are used in toothpaste, soap, exfoliating face washes, shampoos, and other personal care products. They're too small for water treatment plants to filter them out, so they're discharged into water bodies with treated waste water. In the aquatic environment, fish and other organisms often mistake the beads for food — they look like eggs.
Researchers have found that the beads absorb toxic chemicals from the aquatic environments, including heavy metals and pesticides such as DDT. And once the beads are ingested, the organisms absorb those toxins, which are then later ingested by their predators.
Lake Ontario has the highest concentration of microbeads of any of the Great Lakes.