Environmental activists are applauding a new law signed by President Obama this week outlawing microbeads that are used in personal care products. The bill is known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act, and it passed Congress with bipartisan support, reports CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan.
Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in many health and beauty products including soap, body scrub and toothpaste. They are generally used to exfoliate or add polish. No bigger than a grain of salt, these microplastics are a big concern for environmental scientists. They say the tiny particles are a harmful source of ocean and lake pollution.
"We now know the fish we harvest from our Great Lakes are eating these microbeads. Ends up on your dinner plate. It's going from your face, right back into your body," said scientist Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute.
Eriksen and his team study plastic pollution in waters around the world. He's found microbeads in the San Francisco Bay and in high concentrations in the Great Lakes. Not all water treatment plants are able to filter them out.
"They're absorbing industrial chemicals, pesticides from farms," Eriksen said. "Even oil drops from cars will stick to these microplastics and microbeads. At that point they can enter the food chain."
A single cosmetic product can contain up to 300,000 non-biodegradable microbeads. In September, California banned sales of products containing microbeads. Assembly member Richard Bloom authored the legislation and is thrilled Congress is following California's lead.
"It's very significant because you're going to have 50 states doing the same thing, I have no doubt that it's going to spread now to other countries and the longer we have these pollutants in the environment the harder it is to take action to effectively clean up after them," Bloom said.
The law passed surprisingly quickly, but it's not immediate. The new federal law prohibits the manufacture of products containing microbeads as of July 1, 2017.