May 27, 2024

Cano, Boylan introduce legislation to ban microplastics

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State House – Sen. Sandra Cano and Rep. Jennifer Boylan have introduced legislation to ban synthetic polymer microparticles - better known as microplastics - from Rhode Island, as well as direct the Department of Environmental Management to begin a statewide microplastic monitoring and reduction plan.

“The most effective way to prevent harmful microplastics from accumulating in our rivers and bays is to stop their manufacture at the source,” said Senator Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket). “Last year’s Plastic Waste Reduction Act, which banned single-use plastic bags in retail establishments was a vital first step, which this bill continues by eliminating from Rhode Island the microparticles from our products before they enter our environment.”

Said Representative Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), “Microplastics have been piling up in our waterways for years without us knowing the true extent of the problem, let alone how best to address it. We need to monitor microplastic levels and develop a plan to remove them from our waters and greenspaces.”

The legislation (2024-H 7515, 2024-S 2300) would ban the sale or distribution of products containing intentionally added microplastics in Rhode Island beginning January 1, 2028. It would also direct DEM, along with the Department of Health, to adopt a testing plan to monitor the level of microplastics in water and soil as part of a statewide microplastics strategy, covering the health impacts of microplastics, the sources of microplastic pollution, approaches to reduce microplastic pollution, the environmental impacts of microplastic pollution and policy recommendations to reduce or eliminate the presence of microplastics in the environment.

Microplastics enter the environment through a variety of sources, from washing clothes that contain synthetic fibers, the wear of vehicle tires, city dust and personal care products. These microplastics then accumulate in our marine environment. A 2023 study from the University of Rhode Island found that more than 1,000 tons of microplastics have accumulated on the floor of Narragansett Bay in the last 10 to 20 years. Microplastics are then ingested by marine life, putting Rhode Island’s fishing industries and aquatic ecosystems at risk.

“We know there are literally tons of microplastics in the bottom of Narragansett Bay and that problem is only going to get worse if we don’t get serious and put some plans in place to address it,” said Jed Thorp, Rhode Island director for Clean Water Action. “At the very least, we should be doing sampling and testing to better understand where, exactly, microplastics are coming from and then develop a strategy to reduce the sources of this pollution.”

The health impacts of microplastics on humans are not yet fully known, but a recent study from URI found that microplastics infiltrate all systems of the body and cause behavioral changes in mice.

The Senate version of this bill will be heard by the Environment and Agriculture Committee today at 4 p.m. in the Senate Lounge on the second floor of the State House.

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