Five Democratic senators, led by Oregon's Jeff Merkley, have introduced legislation to research the effect microplastics have on biosolids and general health and safety of farming practices.
Merkley is joined by Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Biosolids, generated from waste treatment plants, can be applied to land to help save money for farming and reduce the need for phosphorus and synthetic fertilizers. Biosolids can add nutrients to soil and improve soil structure.
"We know how negatively microplastics impact the human body. As microplastics leave their mark on seemingly every aspect of our lives, it's important that we invest in research to better understand just how many microplastics are found in biosolids," Merkley said in a news release. "Knowing the impacts on soil health, crops and public health will equip us with the knowledge to help adapt our farming methods."
Biosolids research has shown that microplastics are present in the material and there is an estimate that applications of biosolids in the U.S. could annually release 785-1,080 trillion microplastics into the environment.
The Research for Health Soils Act can authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make grants available to further the research on biosolids. This would be able to help further understand the amount of microplastics in biosolids and relate to the effect it has on soil health, crops, the environment and public health.
"Research to study the impact of microplastics in soil ... [and] soil health would help support innovative farming techniques to increase crop yields that benefit Oregon farmers and our environment," Wyden said in a news release. "I'm all in on the effort to improve the health of soils, crops and our environment."
The American Chemistry Council was unable to provide an immediate comment on the legislation.
At the Dec. 15, 2023, Senate hearing, Merkley brought focus to studies finding microplastics in remote environments and to encouraging stronger laws around the issue. In a Dec. 2 statement, Merkley and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., put a microplastics provision in the larger bill they introduced to limit buildout of new plastics plants.
In the statement in notes there are concerns about microplastics within the arctic snow and human blood, and there is a strong urge for legislation to "get this plastics crisis under control."
Merkley has been pushing for a change in plastics policies such as a national bottle bill. He has approached Senate hearings multiple times introducing bills and plans.
In October 2023, Merkley brought a message to the Senate hearing about "Evaluating Material Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics." The hearing did not lead to a debate on specific legislations and didn't conclude clear federal policy options for the future to move away from fossil fuel-based plastics.
This hearing occurred one day after Merkley and Huffman introduced a call for national extended producer responsibility programs, including a 10-cent national bottle deposit. The bill was organized as addressing the public health and toxic emissions problems.