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      Cigarette butts becoming a problem in Columbia

      COLUMBIA (WACH) - The dangers of smoking are well known, but many may not be aware that the remains from cigarettes can have a harmful effect on the whole community if not disposed of properly.

      Finlay Park in downtown Columbia is one example of what can happen when smokers do not take the necessary steps when they are done smoking a cigarette.

      The park, which is a wonderful place for residents to relax and run, is turning into a landfill for cigarette butts, the remaining filters from cigarettes.

      Keep the Midlands Beautiful Executive Director Jacqueline Buck says the cigarette butts can cause harmful effects.

      "They think those cigarette butts break down. Research has shown that it takes up to 12 months for cigarette butts to break down in fresh water, and up to five years in salt water," said Buck.

      According to Buck's organization, Columbia is not alone. More than four million filters are littered worldwide each year.

      Residents WACH Fox reporter Zoheb Hassanali spoke with off camera were not aware of the potentially bad effects.

      Authorities say dropped filters can burn for up to three hours releasing dangerous toxins and increasing the risk of fires, but there is also the chance of the remains entering water ways.

      "When it rains, they go down in our storm water into our beautiful fountains and ponds. That also gets into our streams and rivers. That endangers our wildlife. They ingest them. That is deadly to them," said Buck.

      The city has seen an increase in littered cigarette butts outdoors because of the recent smoking bans in businesses.

      Businesses often provide collection bins to help cut down on the litter.

      People can make a difference by putting cigarette butts in the proper receptacles and making sure the cigarette is extinguished.