The Tennessee River has become one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world. In 2019, a study was conducted on waterways across the globe, and leading experts found that the Tennessee River contained a higher number of microplastics than any other river studied. “We’re at a crisis point, this is a tipping point,” University of Tennessee Arboretum education coordinator Michelle Campanis had said when the study was first released.
The microplastics, which are broken down pieces of plastic from litter and landfills that are no bigger than five millimeters, pose a threat to the natural wildlife who may mistake the small particles for food. Additionally, since the Tennessee River feeds into the Ohio River, Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico, there is a high potential that these microplastics are contaminating other waterways as well.
Due to this crisis situation, non-profit groups such as Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTNRB) have started organizing volunteer-based cleanup events to help reduce the pollution in the river. KTNRB hosts the annual ‘Tennessee River Grand Slam Cleanup Series,’ which takes place over two weekends in different areas surrounding the 652-mile river. This year, cleanup groups gathered in Roane County, Knoxville, Rogersville, and The Shoals, where they collected and removed 22,172 pounds of trash!
This year’s Grand Slam Cleanup was topped off with 8 volunteers on Wheeler Lake removing 3,345 pounds of trash, and 9 volunteers in Muscle Shoals removing 3,115 pounds the following day. “These two cleanups both suffered location and scheduling adjustments due to weather,” explained Kathleen Gibi, Executive Director for KTNRB, “but the results are a testament to what can be accomplished when volunteers are committed to making their community a better place.”
The Cleanup series was an incredible success, and put KTNRB more than halfway to their goal of removing 100,000 pounds of trash from the Tennessee River by the end of 2021. Through their partnership with Living Lands & Waters, the cleanup crews were able to access five 30-foot work boats, which made traveling through and cleaning the river that much more efficient. “The cleanup weekend just held in Alabama was filled with sunshine, laughter, and a lot of trash!” said Dan Breidenstein, Board Vice President of KTNRB.
The Tennessee River Grand Slam Cleanup is just one part of the nationwide effort to cleanup litter, known as the Great American Cleanup. This program, organized and run by Keep America Beautiful, aims to unify like-minded volunteers who wish to make an impact on their environment, while giving back to their communities. The event takes place from March 20 through June 20, and networks across nearly 700 community-based affiliates, just like KTNRB.
“The Grand Slam Cleanup Series is a glimpse at the momentum and energy building around this river,” Gibi continued. “With big and small efforts, we can make a huge, collective impact for our precious Tennessee River, as demonstrated by our volunteers over the past month.” If you’d like to join in the fight against pollution in our waterways, consider signing this petition to tell Shell Oil to stop their mass-production of dangerous microplastics!Whizzco