A recent Congressional Research Service report brought up the notion of microbeads as contaminants and of growing concern. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles made of polyethylene or polypropylene that are used as exfoliants in many personal care products including face wash, body wash, and toothpaste. They are intended to be used once and washed down the drain where they then slip through municipal wastewater treatment due to their small size. They then end up in waterways where they are ingested by marine wildlife that cannot distinguish them from food, and attract toxins such as PCBs further magnifying environmental concerns. As these toxins make their way up the food chain and into our drinking water supply, they pose a threat to human public health as well.
While we are working hard to get the manufacture and sale of products with microbeads banned in California alongside other states that have passed similar laws, it it "at issue whether federal regulation to control or ban microbeads is needed." At the federal level there is currently no agency that regulates microbeads. The Environmental Protection Agency has authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate microbeads that enter wastewater from industrial sources, but not from households where everyday people using personal care products containing them are washing them down the drain by the thousands. It is estimated that a single exfoliating facial cleanser contains 360,000 microbeads. Also according to the report, most cosmetics are not subject to FDA consideration of water quality impacts from their products.
"Advocacy groups,such as the Alliance for the Great Lakes, argue that state law differences could create a confusing patchwork of standards across the country and urge Congress to enact a federal ban on microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products. Industry representatives, such as the Personal Care Products Council, support a uniform federal approach that avoids multiple, different requirements across the states while giving manufacturers sufficient time to reformulate their products."
In March, the "Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015" bill was introduced to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban the sale or distribution of cosmetics containing synthetic plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018. It would add "synthetic plastic microbeads" to the list of "adulterated" cosmetics. It was referred to the Sub committee on Health.
Read more about microbeads and what CAW is doing to ban them here.