Plastic microbeads are passing through Monroe County's two major waste water treatment plants — the Van Lare and Northwest Quadrant facilities — and into Lake Ontario, according to a new report from the State Attorney General's Office. The county participated in the study.
Monroe County's facilities aren't the only ones with this problem. The AG's Office tested treated water discharge from plants across the state and found microbeads in 74 percent of the samples. The beads are commonly found in cosmetic and personal care products such as face wash and shampoo, and they are so small that they easily pass through the treatment systems at municipal waste water plants.
The study says that New Yorkers wash approximately 19 tons of microbeads down their drains annually. Once in the water, the plastic particles can attract certain pollutants, and are often eaten by small aquatic organisms and fish, which mistake them for food. When the organisms eat the particles, the pollutants can enter food webs.
Lake Ontario has the greatest concentration of microbeads of the Great Lakes. A significant amount has also been found in Lake Erie.
Some personal care product manufacturers have started phasing out microbeads. But Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also drafted legislation that would ban microbeads
in New York; sponsors have introduced it in the Assembly and Senate.