Over 9,000 Pounds of Trash Removed from Tennessee River by Volunteers

by Jennifer Shea

The Tennessee River is one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S., according to environmentalists. And as if to prove it, volunteers recently pulled more than 9,000 pounds of trash from the river.

About 25 volunteers from Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTRB) undertook a clean-up effort last weekend. Over the course of the clean-up, they dragged precisely 9,208 pounds of trash out of the river.

Three Days of Hauling Trash

“The really exciting thing about the cleanups in this new area of focus for our organization is that you see momentum building with our partners and volunteers from the time we held a cleanup in October to this past weekend,” Executive Director Kathleen Gibi said in a statement.

KTRB worked with the Johnsonville State Historic Park to do a three-day clean-up. They used a 25-foot aluminum boat to scour the shorelines.

The volunteer turnout for this effort more than tripled from what it had been for an earlier attempt.

“That’s how the change for our river will happen: through local partners and individuals who are eager about taking ownership to protect and improve their beautiful river community,” Gibi said. “It’s been truly inspiring for us to see these change makers take action—especially with the local leadership from Johnsonville State Historic Park.”

Tennessee River Also Polluted With Microplastics

In a 2019 study, researchers found a higher number of microplastics in the Tennessee River than any other river they’d examined, WVLT reported. 

“We’re at a crisis point,” University of Tennessee Arboretum education coordinator Michelle Campanis told WVLT. “In terms of the other types of pollution, pharmaceuticals, heavy metal, the Tennessee River really isn’t so bad. The microplastics are astronomically higher than any other river they’ve studied.”

Sewanee geology professor Dr. Martin Knoll said we don’t yet know what the impacts of those microplastics are on humans. But people in Knoxville, Huntsville and Chattanooga have been drinking Tennessee River water.

Meanwhile, with their clean-up effort, KTRB hoped to illustrate how much trash ends up in the river. Humphreys County Sanitation had given them a large 30-yard dumpster to use in their project. By the end of the three days, the dumpster was totally full. 

The Tennessee River is not only an ecological resource but a historical one as well. And the Johnsonville State Historic Park got involved because rangers hope to salvage the river for future generations.

“On the banks of the Tennessee River, agriculture, industrial growth, fishing, Civil War battles, and much more have shaped the culture of Humphreys County,” Ranger Noah Sinz of Johnsonville State Historic Park said. “Cleanup projects like this past weekend help us to preserve those cultural resources, as well as the natural resource of the Tennessee River for many years to come.”