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Vermont House moves to ban plastic abrasive microbeads

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House on Tuesday advanced a measure to ban tiny plastic particles called microbeads that are often used in personal-care products like toothpaste and over-the-counter medications.

Environmentalists say there are natural alternatives to microbeads, which they say pose a threat to water quality, marine life, and possibly to human health.

State Representative Jim McCullough, Democrat of Williston, said the beads are too small to be filtered by most public sewage treatment plants. He said they attract and become a vehicle for toxic chemicals already in the environment, and that they are often eaten by fish which in turn are eaten by humans.


By banning their use in products sold in the state, ‘‘we’re cutting off the source, we’re stopping the bleeding,’’ said McCullough, vice chairman of the House Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources Committee.

The legislation won preliminary approval in the House in a voice vote with no debate. It is expected to be up for final action on Wednesday before going to the state Senate.

State Representative William Lippert said he heard from a dental hygienist during a recent checkup that the microbeads had become an issue for that profession because they can become stuck in the crevices where teeth meet gums. He said he had been unaware of the issue until that conversation.

‘‘Who would dream that there would be tiny little plastic microbeads in your toothpaste? This is a consumer issue as well as a water issue,’’ the Hinesburg Democrat said.

Responding to consumer concerns, the American Dental Association issued a statement in September saying it saw no reason to remove its seal of acceptance from toothpastes containing synthetic microbeads.

‘‘At this time, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the seal should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads,’’ it said.


Small quantities of the colored polyethylene specks are included in some of Crest’s toothpastes, including Crest Pro Health, which has the ADA seal of acceptance, the group said. However, Crest’s manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, announced in September it will phase out its use of microbeads.

In response to an e-mailed request for comment, the company issued a statement Tuesday saying, ‘‘P&G has made the decision to discontinue our limited use of micro plastic beads as scrub materials in personal care products and are actively working to find alternatives. In the meantime we have options available without microbeads for those who would prefer them.’’