Tuesday, June 28, 2022|
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Products containing plastic microbeads would be banned in Hawaii under a bill passed by the state Legislature.
Senate Bill 2290, which passed final reading Tuesday, would prohibit the manufacture of products containing microbeads — plastic particles less than 1 millimeter wide — beginning in July, and would ban their sale beginning next year.
In July 2023, all personal care products except for nonprescription drugs containing microbeads would no longer be allowed to be sold in the state. One year later, that ban would extend to nonprescription drugs.
Microbeads are included in some over-the-counter drugs to make them easier to swallow, but are most commonly used as exfoliating agents in personal care products such as soaps and lotions. However, their small size allows them to pass through filters easily and be washed into waterways and the ocean, where they are ingested by wildlife with harmful effects.
“All shapes and sizes of plastic pollution is bad for wildlife,” said Megan Lamson, board president of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund. “But microbeads can get digested and absorbed by wildlife species and bioaccumulate, which usually causes sublethal effects, but there are some cases where it is lethal.”
Negative effects on marine life can include reduced fertility and predator response, Lamson said. And because the plastic contaminants linger in the body, they travel up the food chain as predators eat the specimens harboring them.
Nic Vanderzyl, Hawaii Wildlife Fund environmental educator, added that microbeads can introduce diseases that have “hitched a ride” to species like corals or larval fish.
SB 2290 has received largely positive testimony throughout its journey through the Legislature, but some organizations — such as the Retail Merchants of Hawaii and the Hawaii Food Industry Association — opposed it on the grounds that it is largely superfluous because of a 2015 bill called the Microbead-Free Waters Act.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act already prohibited the manufacture and sale of both rinse-off cosmetics and cosmetics that are also nonprescription drugs containing microbeads, with the latest of those prohibitions going into effect in 2019. The Act also prohibits state authorities from enacting any restriction on those products that contradicts the Act.
While SB 2290 specifically notes that “nothing in this Act shall be construed to apply to … products exclusively regulated by the … federal Microbead-Free Waters Act,” that leaves little left to actually regulate, wrote Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.
“(The bill) does not clarify whether or not products that would meet the definition of personal care products contained in the bill, and which contain microbeads, but are not regulated by the (Food and Drug Administration) even exist,” Zirbel wrote. “If such products exist, this measure does not indicate what these products are, what they’re used for, and if they are manufactured or sold in Hawaii presently.”
But regardless, although she was grateful for lawmakers passing the bill, Lamson noted that no ban on microbeads will prevent the accumulation of plastic in wildlife. Plastic pollution breaks apart through wave action or photodegradation, she said, leading to microplastic debris just as small as microbeads.
This has health implications for humans, too. A March study by Dutch researchers found microplastics in the blood of 77% of study participants.
SB 2290 will now go before Gov. David Ige for his consideration.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.
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