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Foam Docks, Buoys In State’s Crosshairs

It appears Republicans and Democrats may have found something to agree on – foam-based docks don’t belong in New York’s waterways.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, introduced S.4974 to limit the use of polystyrene foam in floating docks or platforms if it isn’t covered or extrudes into the water. Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, recently introduced her own legislation (A.8142) with the same aim.

According to the Conservation Law Foundation, a 2014 study of Lake Champlain beaches showed foam was the most abundant pollution in the sand, followed by hard plastic and thin plastic film. Styrofoam is often used in coolers and worm containers because it’s cheap, widely available and floats. It is also brittle, can break into fragments when exposed to sun, wind, waves, ice, impacts from driftwood and when it is impacted by wildlife. A 2018 cleanup Source to Sea Cleanup in 2018 by the Connecticut River Conservancy removed 170 bowling balls worth of dock foam from the Connecticut River.

“Unencapsulated expanded polystyrene is commonly used on private docks and waterways throughout New York state,” Walczyk wrote in his legislative justification. “It is commonly used because

these blocks do not degrade easily. However, polystyrene can prove harmful to aquatic environments. Because they are unencapsulated, abrasion and wildlife tearing at the material leads to the material breaking. As these pieces float into waterways, fish and other aquatic animals may eat them, resulting in their deaths. As a result, many ecosystems are at risk as unencapsulated polystyrene remains near our bodies of water”

Kelles’ bill is similar in that it would also ban polystyrene foam unless it is capsulated or designed to disintegrate into the water, though her bill goes further by prohibiting the sale , distribution or use of certain expanded polystyrene foam products within 250 feet of a water source if not encapsulated. She also proposes banning the sale or distribution of unencapsulated polystyrene foam flotation devices and use of unencapsulated polystyrene, foam in coolers, ice chests, pool toys, beach toys, swimming aids, buoys, or flotation for docks or floating structures within 250 feet of state waters. Kelles also wants to declare the use of unencapsulated polystyrene foam as a flotation device in state waters is declared a nuisance and public health hazard.

Five states have banned polystyrene foam in floating docks while several beaches and cities have taken their own action to ban styrofoam docks.. Some environmental advocates are calling on Vermont to become the sixth state to do so while Kelles and Walczyk are in agreement that New York should do so as well.

“By banning the use of polystyrene in docks, we can help to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals that are released into our waterways and protect the health of our ecosystems and ensure that our water remains clean and safe for generations to come,” Kelles wrote in her legislative justification.

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