Time Capsules Of Microplastics In Tennessee’s Watershed

Jun 9, 2021

Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than five millimeters in length.

Think of larger pieces of plastic that have broken apart - or resin pellets for plastic manufacturing - or those microbeads in health and beauty products.


Dr. Ben Keck, curator of the University of Tennessee Knoxville's David A. Etnier Ichthyological Collection, is using 3,000 "pickled fish" collected from as far back as 1965 to look at the history of microplastics in the Tennessee River.
Credit TVA

These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems - and they end up in our ecosystem, a potential threat to aquatic life.

The University of Tennessee and TVA are studying the impact of microplastics by examining fish gathered from Tennessee’s watershed.

TVA biologists and university students collected these samples of freshwater fish, dating back to 1965 - now preserved in a collection at UT Knoxville.

The study aims to determine when the microplastics entered the watershed, to measure any effects on the freshwater fish.

Dr. Andreas Fath - a water chemist at Furtwangen University in Germany - is working with the study team.

A few years ago, he strapped a pollution sensor to his wetsuit - and swam the entire 652 miles of the Tennessee River.

I spoke with him - and Dr. Ben Keck, director and curator of the Ichthyological Collection at UT Knoxville.