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SUNY Fredonia professor earns Heinz Award for 'groundbreaking' microbeads research

The Heinz Awards
SUNY Fredonia researcher Sherri Mason warned the public about microbeads.

A SUNY Fredonia scientist who warned about the environmental threat of microbeads is one of six people being honored with $250,000 cash awards from the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Family Foundation.

The annual Heinz Awards recognize achievement in the arts, public policy, the economy, the environment and other areas. The recipients of the 23rd annual awards were announced Tuesday. 

Among them is SUNY Fredonia scientist Sherri Mason, in the category of public policy. Mason's "groundbreaking research" found that billions of microbeads - the tiny bits of plastic found in some exfoliating body washes and facial scrubs - were being released into the nation's waterways each day. The foundation said her work spurred state and federal microbead bans.

"A professor of chemistry and chair of the department of geology and environmental science at the State University of New York in Fredonia, New York, Dr. Mason gained initial recognition as the first to research and identify microplastics pollution in the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system in the world," the foundation said. "Her work has drawn international attention to the threats posed by microplastics in freshwater and led to the passage of state measures banning microbeads (extremely small pieces of plastic used in cleansing products as exfoliating agents) and to the enactment of the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015."

Other winners are environmental psychologist Ming Kuo of Urbana, IL; marine biologist Enric Sala of Washington, DC; and education expert Norman Atkins, multidisciplinary artist Ralph Lemon and international business consultant Linda Rottenberg, all of New York City.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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