Buena Vista University and Storm Lake High School students collected sand from along the shoreline of local beaches to research microplastics pollution. (Ben Maas photo)

Researchers say tiny pieces of plastic are polluting the shores of some northwest Iowa beaches. Students at Buena Vista University teamed up with Storm Lake High School students to collect baggies of sand along three of the city’s beaches.

They found small chunks of tires, fleece threads and parking lot paint mixed in the sand. BVU senior Mel Graf says their findings really bring home the environmental issue.

“When we go walking on those beaches, we’re walking on sand but we’re also walking on microplastics, we’re walking on pollution,” Graf says. “Hopefully that’s something we can start to figure out ways to go about fixing.”

BVU environmental science professor Ben Maas says this is just the first in a series of planned studies of microplastics pollution.

“We don’t really know where it is going,” Maas says. “Is it getting deposited in the lake itself, or the mud, the lake bed, or is it getting deposited on the beaches?”

One big concern about microplastics is that they can harm marine life that ingest them. Researchers hope to look more into how far this pollution goes, by studying more beaches and even the water itself.

(Reporting by Katie Peikes, Iowa Public Radio)