ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — Organizers with a mountain nonprofit say their data shows microplastic pollution is widespread through the waters of Western North Carolina.
Testing by MountainTrue shows microplastics are present throughout the French Broad, Broad, Green, Hiwassee, Little Tennessee, New River and Watauga River Basins.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters that are the result of the breakdown of larger plastic litter and debris. They are harmful to aquatic life and considered to be a potential threat to human health.
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MountainTrue organizers say they found microplastics in every sample they took, documenting an average of 19 particles of microplastic per liter of water across all tested watersheds.
The highest particle counts of microplastics were found in Little Tennessee (37 particles/liter) and Hiwassee (30 particles/liter) watersheds.
Even in watersheds with lower levels of microplastic contamination, there were testing sites with concentrations in the high twenties and thirties, MountainTrue says.
Microfibers, which come from synthetic clothing and fishing line, were the most common form of microplastic observed in MountainTrue's samples. Microfilms, which degrade from plastic bags and food wrappers, accounted for more than a quarter of microplastics recorded.
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"The literature out there is showing microplastics are everywhere," said Anna Alsobrook, MountainTrue’s French Broad Watershed outreach coordinator. "I wasn't surprised to see microplastics in all of our samples."
Alsobrook said there have been a lot of studies done on microplastics in marine systems, but there is not as much research on microplastics in freshwater systems, which is why MountainTrue undertook this study. She said they wanted to see how ubiquitous microplastics are in watersheds across Western North Carolina.
She said the findings reinforce MountainTrue's push for a plastic bag ban in the City of Asheville and Buncombe County.
"We think one of the best ways to tackle this is to regulate plastic at the source," Alsobrook said.