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Local experts support ban on microbeads

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Microbeads, commonly used to exfoliate skin, are now banned, which could mean major changes for soaps, face washes and other products.

President Barack Obama signed off on a bi-partisan bill that says Americans can't buy or sell any product containing them.

The new law is aimed at keeping the beads out of the nation's waterways.

Some experts say the beads are so tiny that they aren't caught by filters in waste management facilities and end up in places like the St. Johns River.

"We have lived before microbeads. We can live after,” St. Johns River Keeper Lisa Rinaman said.

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Dr. Quinton White, executive director at Jacksonville University's Marine Science Institute, said microbeads don't degrade.

"They exist for what we think is going to be decades if not centuries,” White said.

White said that's a long-term effect. Right now, marine life are seeing the brunt of it all, he said.

"For some animals, they get into the food chain and they get into their gut and whereas it might take one or two days for normal food to move through, these can take weeks for this plastic through the system,” White said.

According to researchers, 8 trillion microbeads are being pumped into waterways every day. That's enough to cover 300 tennis courts.

Rinaman said water management officials know there are microbeads in local waterways.

“What happens is when it goes down the drain, it goes to a water treatment facility,” Rinaman said. “That water treatment facility is designed to cleanse the water but not to that degree, and so these tiny plastics are getting through and it discharges to the St. Johns River."

White said residents are eating it all the time and don't realize it, because the microbeads end up in the aquifers, too, which is the area's water supply.

The new legislation calls manufacturers to get rid of the beads by 2017.

There are many alternatives for exfoliation, including sugar and salt scrubs that will break down, but provide a similar effect.

JU will be testing the St. Johns River and is asking for volunteers to help out. For more information, go to www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org.