Scientists and teachers gather to learn about environmental effects of microbeads

Scientists and teachers gather to learn about environmental effects of microbeads

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Is your face wash polluting the water? That's what local scientists are trying to figure out along the Georgia coast.

Some states are banning products that contain tiny plastic particles found in body scrubs and makeup.

Scientists with Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, along with teachers from all over the southeast, gathered on Tybee Island looking for these types of plastics in the sand.

Scientists say there are microplastics on Tybee Island, but they are so tiny they are almost impossible to see to the naked eye.

"Basically, we just didn't know to look or we were too busy looking at the larger problem," said Dr. Jay Brandes, UGA Professor at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

The effects of pollution on the environment is nothing new, but scientists say they are now learning plastic water bottles, styrofoam cups and even cosmetic products eventually break down over decades, becoming microplastics.

It's a problem that most classroom teachers aren't even aware of, which is why teachers from all over the southeast are in Savannah studying the effects of marine debris so they can go back and teach their students.

"There's not a lot known, so that's what we are trying to explore a little more in detail," said UGA Marine Educator Doddie Sanders.

"We think [the plastic] is broken down, or it may have been eaten and digested by organism," said Brandes.

Microbeads, found in body products like Neutrogena face wash or Colgate toothpaste, are stirring up controversy in some states.

Illinois has now banned products with microbeads after studies revealed the plastics could not be filtered out of the wastewater. Scientists are now trying to figure out if this is the case in Savannah.

"They do a good job of processing most things. You're not worrying about pollutants or getting sick," said Brandes. "But they are not going to be extracting out those small plastics and that water comes right out here at Tybee."

After taking samples of the sand, they found small fibers and round pieces of plastic that fit the description of microbeads, but they'll have to do more testing to know exactly where they came from.

There's still a lot of research ahead to know how this affects the environment. In the meantime, they are trying to educate others about this new form of pollution.

"At my age, microdermabrazian is very important to me, so I definitely need to go check the product list on my product," said Atlanta teacher Susan Reed.

"It's one of those things where we look for convenience and we don't always see the things that are hidden from our view," said Savannah teacher Heidi Averette. "The microplastics are making their way through the food chain and onto our plates on our kitchen table."

Copyright 2014 WTOC. All rights reserved.