- OPED: O’Mara Needs to Walk the Talk on Microbeads

This OPED was published in the Elmira Star-Gazette on December 14, 2015

O’Mara Needs to Walk the Talk on Microbeads

As the state Senate prepares to return to Albany in January for the first time since June, here is a call to action for Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats: Pass your Microbead-Free Waters Act (S.3932).

It has already passed the Assembly and has enough co-sponsors to pass the Senate, too.

In recent weeks, Albany and Tompkins counties have joined Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Suffolk in enacting bans on microbeads, the tiny plastic pellets found in products like face wash and toothpaste. Six more municipalities are on deck for action, as Republicans and Democrats, and officials from rural, urban and suburban areas alike step up following the state Senate’s failure to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act.

These bits of plastic are small, but their impact is huge — they can come by the tens of thousands in a single bottle, wash down the drain, harm our local wastewater infrastructure and pass into local waterways, where they contaminate our environment, absorb toxics like PCBs, and then make their way into the food chain.

Not a single New Yorker is cleaner or more beautiful today because they have been washing their face with plastic. Banning microbeads is common sense. Natural alternatives like sea salt, oatmeal and ground coconut shells are already in use, and retail stores such as Wegmans and Tops have already committed to phasing out the sale of products made with microbeads.

In fact, support for a ban is so widespread that even the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to ban.

In Albany, Senator O’Mara has introduced a competing bill, at the behest of the plastics industry, that has language that ensures it would never accomplish anything.

If Senator O’Mara had simply advanced the bill the Assembly passed, then we’d probably have a statewide ban in place and local leaders could be focusing on other matters. Alas!

The upside is that Senator O’Mara recently told City & State newspaper that his top priority in the 2016 legislative session is a microbead ban. That is good news, because he and Majority Leader John Flanagan can pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act the very first week the Senate returns to session in January; the support is proven, he has the votes, and local governments are already passing similar versions.

Environmental Advocates and our partners will continue working to secure more local bans. New Yorkers want the state Senate leadership to pass common-sense, widely supported legislation like the Microbead-Free Waters Act. There is no justification for Senator O’Mara’s failure to act.

Saima Anjam is environmental health director of Environmental Advocates of New York.