TenneSwim finds elevated microplastics in Tennessee River

From the!

On Oct. 10, Dr. Andreas Fath and Dr. Martin Knoll visited the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute to discuss their findings based on daily water quality tests and samples collected during Fath's 34 day swim along the entire length of the Tennessee River.

The levels of some chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, were lower in the Tennessee compared to Germany's Rhine River but samples that the TenneSwim team collected in the Tennessee River revealed microplastic concentrations 8,000 percent higher than those found in the Rhine. The levels of microplastic on the surface of the Tennessee were also 80 percent higher than in China’s Yangtze River, which a recent study found to be the source of 55 percent of all river-born microplastic entering the ocean.

“I did not expect such high levels of microplastics. Therefore, we triple-checked the results,” Dr. Fath says. “By looking for a reason, we rather quickly made a plausible guess.”

Despite the similar length of the Rhine and the Tennessee, he says, the dramatic difference between the levels of microplastic is likely a byproduct of differing approaches to waste management and recycling.

The TenneSwim analysis suggests the primary source of microplastic pollution in the Tennessee is not from microbeads, minuscule plastic spheres found in many cosmetic products and a primary source of microplastic pollution worldwide. Instead, Fath says, he is convinced the high levels are a byproduct of decomposition from large plastic waste in landfills.

The full story can be found here.