Microbeads could be banned in Colorado


It’s always about water in Colorado, and the present Legislative Session is no exception. A bill headed for the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee will attempt to make sure Colorado doesn’t wind up with the same water pollution problem as other states.

House Bill 15-1144 will be heard on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 1:30 p.m. in the public health committee. Its sponsor is Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, the committee’s chair.

The bill would ban the production, manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads less than 5 millimeters in size. The ban would be phased in over two years, beginning Jan. 1, 2018, and completed Jan. 1, 2020. Penalties for each violation range from $1,000 to $10,000. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would levy the violations, with financial penalties assessed by the district court where the violation took place.

This type of legislation that involves the courts and a public agency usually carries a fiscal note; however, that fiscal note is not yet available.

Primavera told The Colorado Statesman this week that the request to carry legislation came from Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of personal care products. While Johnson & Johnson has already pledged to remove microbeads from their products, they wanted to make sure smaller companies also take that action. “There may be some small companies [that use microbeads], and we also want to make sure none start up,” said Primavera. There’s also a concern that these products could come into Colorado from foreign countries, like China, Primavera said.

About two years ago, 5 Gyres, an environmental group devoted to ridding the world of plastics in the water supply, discovered tiny plastic beads were showing up in water samples. These tiny beads, referred to as microbeads, are used in a variety of personal care products, from body wash to facial scrubs to toothpaste. Last year Modern Hygienist magazine warned their readers that these microbeads were showing up in the gums of dental patients.

Microbeads have been around since the 1970s, but only in the last decade have they been used as exfoliants. The beads are plastic, made of polyethylene and related materials, including nylon. A bottle of Clear & Clean facial scrub, for example, contains 330,000 beads. In some products they’re so small that they bypass the filters in wastewater treatment plants and head into the water supply.

That’s what has some state legislatures and Congress in a lather.

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