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Our view: Northland pride: UWS leads environmental way

Lawmakers in Illinois and New York were the first to jump, passing measures to ban those tiny little plastic beads that are found in so many soaps and other health care products. This was after the beads started being found -- sometimes in alarmi...

Lawmakers in Illinois and New York were the first to jump, passing measures to ban those tiny little plastic beads that are found in so many soaps and other health care products. This was after the beads started being found - sometimes in alarming numbers - in rivers and lakes, including all of the Great Lakes.
At least 12 more states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, now appear poised to take action, too, before any more pollution and harm can be done.
A lot of credit for this well-received rush to right an environmental wrong goes to our very own University of Wisconsin-Superior. Not widely known as a research facility - though maybe it should be - UWS nonetheless led the way in removing and concentrating the toxic compounds found in the microbeads in order to identify them and determine their risk. UWS’s Lorena Rios-Mendoza, an assistant chemistry professor in the Lake Superior Research Institute, was making headlines in 2013 already when she dragged a super-fine mesh across the Great Lakes and starting catching vast amounts of the plastic beads - 1.7 million of them in Lake Erie nets alone.
The beads typically are put into products to exfoliate skin or to help with cleaning and are so small, about the size of a grain of sand, that they wash down drains and pass through sewage treatment plants. Because they’re plastic, they never truly break down in the environment. They pollute instead. Not only that, fish and birds seem to be seeing them as food, possibly mistaking them for fish eggs, as the News Tribune’s John Myers reported over the weekend.
The crusade to rid products of these beads extends beyond government to the manufacturers themselves. Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal are among those who’ve said they’ve eliminated plastic beads from their products or soon will.
 But continued government action will be critical, too.  In Wisconsin, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy heard testimony Thursday from environmental and wildlife groups in favor of a bill to impose a ban. The committee can pass the proposal later this month. In Minnesota, lawmakers have introduced bills to set deadlines for removing or selling beads. A hearing is scheduled in St. Paul today. There appears to be little opposition, and the legislation deserves bipartisan passage.
And that’ll be good. For the Great Lakes. For the environment.
And for the Northland, which can take pride in the research done at our very own University of Wisconsin-Superior.

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