Microbeads found in personal care products are slipping through the state's sewage treatment plants and entering the Atlantic Ocean, where they can harm sea life, according to a study released Monday by the state attorney general in support of his push for a statewide ban on the tiny plastic particles.
The study, which Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office undertook with researchers at SUNY Fredonia, collected effluent samples from 34 wastewater treatment plants across the state, including the Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Nassau County.
Of those, nearly three-quarters contained microbeads -- including Nassau's plant, which discharges into the Atlantic Ocean.
Once microbeads are in waterways, they can collect "toxic chemical pollutants" on their surfaces and be mistaken for food by animal life, allowing contamination to enter the food chain, according to the study.
A report last year from Schneiderman's office claimed about 1.3 tons of microbeads are discharged per year in Nassau County alone.
In February, Schneiderman submitted a bill to the State Legislature that would ban microbeads from personal care products in the state. Violations would carry a penalty of $2,500 per day for the first offense, and double that for the second offense.
A vote on that bill, sponsored by Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck), is expected on Wednesday -- Earth Day -- said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of that body's environmental conservation committee.
"This is an important part of our Earth Day agenda," he said. "We see this as a high priority."
Meanwhile, state Sen. Thomas O'Mara (R-Elmira), chair of the environmental conservation committee who sponsored the attorney general's bill, last month introduced a separate microbead bill that would phase in a ban on the manufacture and sale of synthetic, non-biodegradable plastic microbeads in personal care products.
The bill only applies to solid microbeads in products used to exfoliate or cleanse the skin, and it carries no penalty provision.
"I'm approaching it with the view of both the environmental concerns of microbeads as well as balancing that with the needs of industry to adapt to this change," O'Mara said.
The two bodies have been meeting to negotiate common ground on a microbead ban.
"I'm hoping we come up with a bill that does what it's supposed to do, which is to keep our waterways free of microplastics," Schimel said.