TACOMA -- Researchers at the University of Washington in Tacoma want to know how much plastic is floating around in Puget Sound, and with every scoop so far they say they've never failed to find at least a tiny bit of it.
"I have never not gotten a sample that didn't have plastic in it," said researcher Julie Masura, who has developed her own net system for gathering sea water.
The team drags the net behind a boat, then pulls it in and checks it for plastic particles. Most can be visually identified among the bits of wood and other debris in the sample. The group then tests it to confirm and the results are surprising even to them.
"The stuff is everywhere," said Masura.
At this point the researchers don't know what kind of exact problems the plastics may cause. Plastics have been found in the guts of small ocean creatures, but scientists still don't know yet how it's harming them. Tests will begin soon on that question.
Most of the plastic bits come from larger, degrading forms of plastic sea litter and street runoff. But some are manufactured beads that are used by the makers of cosmetic and cleaning products to give them an abrasive quality for scrubbing. Even one brand of toothpaste contains the beads.