The plastic problem is not just in the ocean, it’s also in our rivers.

See the email I received from Marge Davis on October 12, 2018:

Wednesday, Dr Andreas Fath of Germany was in Chattanooga to announce the results of his 2017 swim of the Tennessee River. The big news was the level of microplastics near the surface: 16,000 particles (from 25 to 500 microns) per cubic meter. While microplastics research is relatively young, this is the highest recorded concentration to date in the world. The samples were collected in filters built into a custom wetsuit.

To put it in context: in his 2014 swim of the Rhine in Europe (765 miles), Fath found 200 particles per cubic meter. In the Kinzig (Germany) he found 800. And in a comparable study in the heavily polluted Yangtze in China in 2017, another research team found 9,000 particles per cubic meter (extrapolating for a larger filter mesh size of 50 to 500 microns).

Dr Fath emphasized that surface collections tell only part of the story—that concentrations increase the deeper you go in the water column, and are highest on the river bottom. This is because all particles sink over time, and some, including the PET in beverage bottles, sink almost immediately. He told me he would expect at least 100,000 pp3m at the bottom of the Tennessee.

(It’s not translated into English, but in the TN River footage in this YouTube video—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFe8Iyp79xA—you get a sense just how narrow a band of water he was sampling.)

Based on his analysis of the various polymers in the mix—roughly half was PE (polyethylene)—he believes the chief sources are degraded plastics from landfills and litter. In a slide titled “What can we do?” he put “implement bottle bill” near the top of the list, just below “avoid single-use plastic.”

I’m attaching the press release for the event. And here’s links to stories in a local paper, and the National Geographic (!):

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/alarming-level-microplastics-found-tennessee-river/

https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2018/oct/10/tennessee-river-has-shocking-amount-microplastics-scientists-warn/480798/

Marge Davis, coordinator
TennCan: The TN Bottle Bill Project
45 Burris Ct
Mount Juliet, TN 37122
cell (615) 294-2651
www.tnbottlebill.org
marge@tnbottlebill.org

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