DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper hopes science will inform policy solutions to clean up area waterways.

Asheville, NC — Testing conducted by local conservation organization MountainTrue has confirmed that cattle and faulty or inadequate sewer, septic or water treatment infrastructure are the major sources of E. coli pollution in the French Broad River.

MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper conducts regular water quality monitoring of rivers and streams throughout the French Broad River Basin, including weekly testing of more than 30 recreation areas from May to September. After decades of slow but consistent improvement to the basin’s water quality, the organization has documented a sharp decline in water quality.

“The difference over that past few years has been disturbing,” explains French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “Take Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District: That site passed the EPA’s safe threshold for swimming 81% of the time in 2016. Just four years later, that site failed 81% of the time in 2020. Or Mud Creek in Henderson County, that site passed 52% of the time in 2018, and now it fails 93% of our tests.”

MountainTrue’s standard E. coli testing program measures the E. coli in the river. Levels in the French Broad have been high and rising year-over-year, but the nonprofit couldn’t say for certain what the sources of the pollution were. Determining the major sources of E. coli required more expensive testing to look at the presence of DNA in the river.

“Testing DNA in polluted water is pretty state-of-the-art and it isn’t cheap,” explains Hartwell Carson. “We needed help paying for it, so we approached Senator Chuck Edwards for help.” North Carolina Senator Edwards, whose district includes Henderson and parts of Buncombe County, helped secure state funding to pay for sampling and lab costs. With that funding, MountainTrue looked at the DNA found in 55 water samples to look for genetic fingerprints of E. coli from people, cows, dogs, poultry, sheep and swine.

“Our rivers are very important to our quality of life and our economy,” explains Senator Edwards. “This project is helping us better understand the causes of bacteria pollution in the French Broad River. We need that information to develop solutions that will keep the river clean.”

Of the 55 samples, 44 revealed DNA from cows. Human DNA was the second most prevalent. The results vary, but at nearly every site the primary sources of pollution were cattle followed by human. Dog DNA also showed up as a moderate contributor to E. coli pollution at a few sample sites.

“The French Broad has some clean and clear streams that run through protected public lands, but we’re seeing more and more problem sites that consistently fail the EPA’s safe water standard for E. coli,” says Hartwell Carson. “Until now, we’ve only had educated guesses about where the E. coli was coming from. With this testing, we have the data we need to make more informed decisions about how to clean up our rivers.”

MountainTrue is presenting the results from their DNA testing to local members of the General Assembly and is encouraging the public to advocate for the adoption of a clean rivers policy agenda that includes funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments reduce water pollution.

“Now that we know the sources of E. coli pollution,” says Hartwell Carson. “The next step is to invest in actions that fix the problem.” The public can read about issues affecting water quality, and the policies and reforms needed to fix them at iloverivers.org.


We’ve done the DNA testing. We know the sources of E. coli pollution. Now we have the solutions to clean up our rivers. Stand up for science-based policies to help farmers fence cattle out of streams and property owners fix their septic systems.  And advocate for much-needed investments in wastewater infrastructure.

The Results:

MountainTrue focused their testing on problem sites that had shown high levels of E. coli in previous testing: Hominy Creek, Mud Creek below downtown Hendersonville, Cane Creek and the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District. DNA levels of 0-49 numbers of DNA copies/100mL are considered “very low,” 50-99 “low,” 100-499 “medium,” 500-999 “high,” and 1,000 or above was “very high.” DNA testing provides a general picture of a body of water for approximately 100 meters upstream.

Hominy Creek
Averages for six samples: Cow – 339, Dog, 89, Human – 34.
Every sample taken at Hominy Creek showed cow DNA counts at or above medium levels. The highest level of cow DNA recorded was 511, putting that sample in the high range. Human DNA was also found in every sample, though at low or very low amounts in all samples except one in the medium range. This indicates that upstream agriculture in the watershed is significantly contributing to E. coli impairment, and while human waste from faulty sewers and failing septic systems plays a role, it isn’t the dominant pollution source. This testing site is below the Hominy Creek Greenway, a very popular dog-walking area and the likely reason for higher levels of dog DNA.

French Broad at Pearson Bridge
Averages for six samples: Cow- 270, Dog – 59, Human – 67
Cow DNA was the largest contributor at this site, but levels were more varied than at Hominy Creek. One sample showed cow DNA in the high range at 764, while three other samples presented low levels of cow DNA. Human DNA and dog DNA were also present at this site but at much lower levels. The variability of DNA levels is likely due to the impact of stormwater runoff. When it rains, cow and dog waste are washed in from the surrounding landscape causing a rise in pollution levels.

Cane Creek at Fletcher Park
Averages for six samples: Cow – 334, Human – 47, Dog – 8
The primary source of E. coli pollution in Cane Creek is quite clearly cattle from area farms. Human levels of DNA were very low and nonexistent in two instances.

Mud Creek below Downtown Hendersonville
Average for seven samples: Cow – 251, Human – 120, Dog – 52
Mud Creek was the site with the highest level of human DNA in all our testing. But, even here, levels of cow DNA were more prevalent than human. In three instances, human DNA counties were higher, but the overall average for cow DNA was higher. The pollution sources for Mud Creek are likely cattle, closely followed by human waste from faulty sewers, failing septic systems and inadequate wastewater treatment plants.

About MountainTrue
MountainTrue champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities. We are committed to keeping our mountain region a beautiful place to live, work and play. Our members protect our forests, clean up our rivers, plan vibrant and livable communities, and advocate for a sound and sustainable future for all. MountainTrue is active in the Broad, French Broad, Green, Hiwassee, Little Tennessee, New and Watauga watersheds, and is home to the Broad Riverkeeper, French Broad Riverkeeper, Green Riverkeeper, and Watauga Riverkeeper.

Media Contact:
Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
E: karim@mountaintrue.org, C: 415-535-9004

French Broad River Paddle Trail Internship (Asheville Office) – Summer 2021

French Broad River Paddle Trail Internship (Asheville Office) – Summer 2021

The French Broad Riverkeeper was founded in 2001, and serves as the primary protector and defender of the French Broad River watershed in western North Carolina. The Riverkeeper works for healthy and safe waterways in the French Broad River watershed by partnering with citizens and communities to identify pollution sources, enforce environmental laws, advocate for stronger environmental laws, engage in restoration, build recreation options, and educate and empower the public. The French Broad Riverkeeper is a program of MountainTrue, a conservation non-profit that champions clean water, resilient forests, and healthy communities.

The French Broad River Paddle Trail is a series of campsites and access points that now connects over 140 miles of the French Broad River. MountainTrue built six new campsites and opened the paddle trail in the summer of 2012. These campsites are all located on private land maintained by MountainTrue and our partners. 

LOCATION: Asheville Downtown Office with travel throughout the French Broad River Watershed

DURATION: May- September. Flexible schedule and hours working 2-4 days a week with some weekend work required (specific work hours will be laid out at the beginning of the internship).

COMPENSATION: $5,000 stipend with academic credit possible

FOR MORE INFORMATION: frenchbroadpaddle.com

The French Broad River Paddle Trail intern will work with the French Broad Riverkeeper to maintain and patrol all aspects of the French Broad River Paddle Trail. This will include visiting each site on a regular basis, checking and working on maintenance issues at the sites including mowing, weed eating, cleaning compost toilets, shoveling access steps, fixing broken tables, etc. Work will also include patrolling the river to monitor for problems, updating the paddle trail website and mobile app, working with the public on paddle trail reservations, and helping with paddle trail trips. 


  • Ability to work outdoors in all conditions
  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Able to operate power tools and perform landscape maintenance
  • Good social media skills preferred
  • Ability to manage time effectively
  • Ability to work on many projects at once and maintain attention to details
  • Ability to work as part of a team as well as independently
  • Paddling skills preferred, but not necessary

TRANSPORTATION: Will need reliable transportation to our truck and equipment, but can use the MountainTrue truck for most of the work that is needed.

TO APPLY: Send a statement of interest and resume to Hartwell Carson at hartwell@mountaintrue.org. Deadline to apply is May 10.

Water Quality Intern (Asheville Office) – Summer 2021

Water Quality Intern (Asheville Office) – Summer 2021

MountainTrue and the French Broad Riverkeeper are currently seeking an intern to help with monitoring for E.coli and microplastics in our local waterways. Bacteria is one of the biggest pollutants within the French Broad River basin. We have two monitoring programs aimed at tracking its sources.  Our intent with these programs is twofold— 1). to alert the public of high E. coli levels to ensure safe water for safe recreation, and 2) pinpointing sewer/septic leaks and agricultural runoff problems in order to get them fixed. Microplastics are an emerging issue we are tackling. Not many studies have been done on microplastics on freshwater systems, especially on headwater watersheds. It is our goal to begin quantifying this pollution. 

Ideally, this intern would help facilitate both programs, 2 days per week.  It’s a paid position, and the experience is a particularly excellent opportunity for anyone who wants to demonstrate skills in science, leadership and project management with measurable outcomes. The ratio of inside to outside time is about 50:50.

The position involves coordinating sampling volunteers, performing lab and field work, managing data, conducting research, and distributing results to the public. The ideal candidate will possess charisma and leadership skills, and an above-average attention to detail. No prior knowledge or experience in water quality monitoring is necessary; training will be provided.  Special attention will be given to individuals who historically have been underrepresented in the environmental field. It is a paid internship, working two days a week.


  • Strong attention to detail and organization 
  • Ability to adhere to strict, but simple, Quality Control measures 
  • Ability to lift and carry cooler full of ice, bend over to collect sample up to 30 times per day, and maintain a steady hand in the lab 
  • Familiarity with Excel and ability to keep accurate records 
  • Ability to teach others 
  • Willingness to drive your own car up to collect samples (mileage is reimbursed at a rate of approximately $0.43/mile) 
  • Commitment to the goal of improving water quality through citizen science
  • Experience with communication around environmental issues preferred
  • Must be able to work 2 days a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays, running from approximately May 26 – September 2, 2021 (end date is negotiable).
  • This internship is a paid position and compensation will be discussed in the interview process.


Email a statement of interest and a resume to Anna Alsobrook at anna@mountaintrue.org. Deadline to apply is May 10.

March 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

March 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

March 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

Rethinking Smart Growth. Reclaiming Community Design’s Radical Roots

A few months before the pandemic set in, Asheville Design Center Director Chris Joyell had a meeting with a community group in the Emma neighborhood in Buncombe County that challenged many of the assumptions he held regarding Smart Growth development and the role of Design Centers. Over the past year Chris has given this issue much thought, and one result is this article, “Rethinking Smart Growth.” In this piece, Chris explores the historic role Design Centers have played in the US and examines how, despite good intentions, Smart Growth initiatives can threaten many of the communities that Design Centers were created to serve. Read more.

Massive Public Comment Sign Ups Lead To Several New Hearings on Duke’s Energy Plan

You signed up, and the NC Utilities Commission noticed! So many people signed up to make virtual public comment on Duke’s proposed new energy plan that the NC Utilities Commission canceled yesterday’s original hearing to schedule several more opportunities for public comment. Final tallies show that over 200 people signed up for the original hearing date. This is a huge victory, and shows that the NC Utilities Commission is aware of how much public pushback there is against Duke’s proposed plan.

To recap: Duke is required to submit a long-term plan to the NC Utilities Commission detailing how the company plans to source energy over the next fifteen years. Duke released a proposal toward the end of 2020 that is bad news for the climate: proposing the construction of up to 13 new gas plants, overinflating the costs of renewable energy and battery storage, and proposing less renewable energy 14 years from now than what is already the national average. Thank you to everyone who showed power in numbers by signing up, and we hope you’ll join us in building momentum for the NCUC to require big changes to Duke’s plan.

If you registered to speak at the public hearing that was originally scheduled for March 16, make sure to respond to the email from the NCUC to confirm your attendance for a future hearing. Thank you!

High Country Regional News

For Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties

MountainTrue University About Sustainability in the High Country | April 7 at 12pm

Join us for a High Country sustainability discussion with George Santucci. You may know George as the long-time Director of the New River Conservancy. George has brought his decades of environmental experience to his new role as Sustainability and Special Projects Director for the Town of Boone.

Join us for an informative discussion about how MountainTrue and the Town of Boone have partnered to address energy use, climate change, stormwater and microplastics pollution. Learn more.

Avery County Clean Sweep on Beech Creek (March 20, 27 and April 7)

Litter is on the rise, with personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, single-use plastics and tires showing up far and wide in our watershed. In response, Avery County Clean Sweep is a collaborative grassroots effort to clean up the roadways and public spaces across our community, with a focus on the Beech Creek Area in Avery County. We’re joining the Grandfather Stewardship Foundation, Avery County Sheriff’s Office, Avery County Emergency Management and countless other organizations to help take back the beauty of this area.

We love to see the hard work of our volunteers, and we hope you’ll share your cleanup photos on social media with @mtntrue and @wataugariverkeeper. We can also provide bags and gloves so that you or a small group can participate safely. There will be prizes for the most trash collected! Sign up here.

Last Live Staking Day: March 20

Photo By Moss Brennan

Missed our other live staking workdays? No worries, we still have one more! Sign up and come join us this Saturday to plant native tree cuttings at Valle Crucis Community Park. Thank you to our wonderful volunteers who have helped us plant thousands of trees this season. Sign up here.

Looking For Other Opportunities To Volunteer?

Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) Sampling at the Wilbur Dam on the Watauga River.

We also have year-round opportunities to get involved with MountainTrue’s High Country Office. Our Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) is a monthly water chemistry sampling program that relies on volunteers, and our microplastics program needs volunteers to take monthly water samples and do small trash inventories at various locations throughout the Watauga Watershed. If you are interested in becoming a regular volunteer for either of these programs or would like more information, please contact our High Country Water Quality Administrator Hannah Woodburn at hcwqa@mountaintrue.org.

Now is also an excellent time to join our Headwaters Giving Program. You can make a tremendous impact with a small, recurring monthly donation. Invest in our future, pay your river bill and help support our ongoing programs today. Make your river gift here.

Southern Regional News

For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties

Round Two: Asphalt Plant Proposed for East Flat Rock Reapplies for Rezoning

SE Asphalt has submitted a new rezoning application in Henderson County to build an industrial asphalt plant at the intersection of Spartanburg Highway (US-176) and US-25. This location is across the street from a low-income mobile home park and surrounded by hundreds of single-family homes, small farms and the Green River Game Lands. The site also drains directly to Laurel Creek, which flows into the Green River.

Last year, MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and hundreds of local residents organized with Friends of East Flat Rock to successfully oppose this rezoning and the construction of the new asphalt plant. Now we’re asking the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to protect communities and the environment by standing by its existing zoning rules and denying the application.

Henderson County will host a Community Compatibility Meeting on Tuesday, March 30 at 4pm in the East Henderson High School Auditorium. Then on April 15, the Henderson County Planning Board will hear the application and make a recommendation to the County Commissioners at its meeting in the same location. Mark your calendars and show up to make your voices heard! Learn more here.

Green River and Lake Adger Spring Cleanings are On for April 10!

Join MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and Liquidlogic Co-founder Shane Benedict for the 11th Annual Green River Spring Cleaning!

For obvious reasons, we’ll need to take additional precautions to keep everyone safe and healthy this year, including wearing masks in parking lots and anytime you can’t maintain six feet of distance, avoiding large groups and shuttling with household groups. We’re asking folks to provide their own boats or to clean up from the land, and to manage their own day-of logistics in terms of location, time, and shuttle if necessary.

Post your photos to social media and we’ll send prizes to the best, biggest, weirdest, and most trash finds! Pre-register for the Green River cleanup here and the Lake Adger cleanup here to stay connected and get updates about available supplies and trash disposal.

Sign up for the Green River cleanup. 
Sign up for the Lake Adger cleanup.

Partner Organization Spotlight: SouthWings

MountainTrue’s Broad Riverkeeper, David Caldwell, was introduced to SouthWings in 2017 during the effort to make Duke Energy excavate its unlined coal ash pits in Cliffside. The views from above were telling, showing the huge volume of coal ash and its proximity to the Broad River. Images gathered during flights with SouthWings informed our advocacy efforts, which ultimately helped secure a state order requiring Duke to excavate and move all of the company’s coal ash in North Carolina to lined landfills safely away from water.

Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell (left) with SouthWings pilot Peter Stauble (right) discussing their flight plan before takeoff.

Later flights with SouthWings pilot Peter Stauble revealed some beautiful views of the watershed, from the headwaters near Chimney Rock down to South Carolina’s Big Bay. But other less beautiful views from the plane included runoff and sedimentation from development sites, huge piles of uncovered poultry waste from factory farms and numerous industrial facilities. These flights give us the information and images to better protect our watershed by investigating pollution sources and implementing strategies to fix them. Thanks for your great work, Peter and SouthWings!

Western Regional News

For Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in NC, and Towns and Union counties in GA

Virtual Watershed Gala Honors David Liden, MountainTrue History

David Liden (center) received the 2021 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award from MountainTrue Western Regional Director Callie Moore (left) and Hiwassee Watershed Advisory Council Chairperson Jason Chambers (right) at the John C. Campbell Folk School gardens before the online event.

Although we missed the human interaction of the traditional in-person event, the 2021 virtual Watershed Gala was fun and familiar in its own way. We celebrated our accomplishments over the past year and honored the Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award winner just like we always do. We also had conversations in small virtual groups and smiled and laughed – without masks – like we’ve done at past Galas. Yes, it was different being on Zoom, but the 42 participants learned a lot about the founding and early history of the movement that continues today as MountainTrue from David Liden, this year’s award winner and a person who was in the center of it all.

Thank you to all who contributed and participated to help make the virtual Gala successful! We plan to be back in a ballroom in 2022, but our silent auction may be a little different in future years as we strive to continue to involve all of MountainTrue in the event.

If you missed the Gala this year, you can still watch the video highlighting our western region 2020 accomplishments here!

MountainTrue Trains 17 New Volunteers for the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream Program

Union County, GA resident Clare Johnston demonstrates how she collects a bacterial sample during a recent AAS volunteer recertification workshop.

Seventeen new water quality monitoring volunteers are being added to the ranks of the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS) program this month in the Hiwassee Watershed! For more than a decade, volunteers have been sampling water chemistry and E.coli at more than 40 locations across Towns and Union counties in North Georgia and Cherokee and Clay counties in WNC as part of Georgia AAS. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, MountainTrue provides supplies and monitoring equipment free of charge at five locations across the watershed so that volunteers can help us keep tabs on water quality regardless of their financial situation.

Reminder: Blue Ridge Paper Permit Hearing & Comment Period Coming Up in April

Blue Ridge Paper Products has a long history on the Pigeon River in Canton. It has provided good jobs for decades, but historically it has also caused massive negative impacts to water quality and aquatic life in the Pigeon River. Because of pressure from the public, environmental groups, states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there have been significant improvements in the quality of the plant’s discharge and a reduction of the amount in the river.

Now that river conditions are better – such that rafting and other water-based recreation is thriving – we want to ensure that strong protections stay in place and that the facility’s new permit will drive continued improvement, particularly with regard to water temperature. Visit our Help Make the Pigeon River Healthier page to learn more, submit comments, and/or sign up to attend the online public hearing set for April 14!

Winter Tree Identification Workshop with Tony Ward this Saturday

 A heart-shaped leaf scar on a young hickory tree. Leaf scars can help you identify native trees in winter.

Join Tony Ward, MountainTrue’s Western Region Program Coordinator, this Saturday at 10am for a relaxing 1.2-mile loop trail hike along the lake shoreline at the Lake Chatuge Recreation Area. This trail features a wide variety of native trees perfect for identification. During this hike, Tony will discuss how to identify trees in our area in a way that is accessible to all skill levels of tree identifiers.

The cost of the workshop/outing is $10 for MountainTrue members and $20 for non-members. The non-member ticket includes a year-long membership, so you’ll enjoy reduced rates on other events and outings for a full year afterward. Register today!

Events & Volunteer Opportunities

Note: All attendees at in-person events are required to follow our COVID-19 safety guidelines.

March 20, 10am-2pm: Live Staking Workday In Valle Crucis
Fight sediment pollution, erosion and climate change with Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill by planting live stakes along streams and river banks. Sign up here.

March 20, 10am-12pm: Western Region Winter Tree ID Workshop
Join MountainTrue’s Western Region Program Coordinator, Tony Ward, for our Winter Tree ID hike at Lake Chatuge. The 1.2-mile loop trail at the Lake Chatuge Recreation Area Trail offers a tour along the lake shoreline and has a wide variety of native trees perfect for identification! Sign up here.

April 7, 12-1pm: MountainTrue University: How Local Governments Are Responding To Climate Change
Join us for an informative discussion with George Santucci, the Sustainability and Special Projects Director for the Town of Boone, about how MountainTrue and Boone’s local government have partnered to address energy use, climate change, stormwater and microplastics pollution. Register here.

April 10: Spring Cleanings on the Green River and Lake Adger
Join MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper and Liquidlogic Co-founder Shane Benedict for the 11th Annual Green River Spring Cleaning! We’ll send prizes to the best, biggest, weirdest, and most trash finds.

Register for the Green River cleanup (10am-4pm).
Register for the Lake Adger cleanup (9am-5pm).

April 11, 18, 23 & 25: Paddlers For Hemlocks Workday
Join the Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce (PHHAT) as we work to protect hemlock trees along the Green River from the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid. PHHAT works in areas that are only accessible by boat in the Green River Game Lands.

Sign up for the April 11 workday here.

To sign up for the workdays on April 18, 23 or 25, email gray@mountaintrue.org.

April 22, 9am-12pm: Bearwallow CCA Spring Hike
This easy-to-moderate trail climbs one mile through the lovely mountain forest and opens up onto a large grassy field at the top. This spectacular summit will be the site for some guided reflection before looping back down the mountain. Sign up here.

May 7, 10am-3pm: High Country Wildflower Hike
Join MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist, Josh Kelly, as he leads us on a hike to explore the wildflowers found in Elk Knob State Park. The hike is on the Summit Trail, a moderate, four-mile out and back trail that offers spectacular views of Mount Jefferson, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell and more! Sign up here.

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

By Hannah Woodburn, High Country Water Quality Administrator of MountainTrue

While we see it everywhere, mass-produced plastic has only existed since the 1950’s. Not only does producing plastic create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but our air, food and water systems are becoming increasingly contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic – called microplastics – that are a concern for ecosystem and human health.

Microplastics are defined as being smaller than 5mm and enter our freshwater systems through runoff and industrial processes. They can be purposefully designed to be small (think microbeads), or they can be fragments of larger items like tires, fishing line, water bottles and synthetic clothing.

So How Did We Get Here?

The amount of plastic created worldwide has increased from 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018. Plastic materials are derived from ethane, a natural gas product, and are extracted using a method called fracking. Every stage of plastic production results in greenhouse gas emissions, releasing a variety of pollutants during the process. Further, the US is the top producer and exporter of ethane in the world, and our plastic production is currently projected to double by 2050.

While plastics do represent a milestone in technological and chemical development, between 26-40% of all plastics are made with the intention to be single-use items – like food packaging, bottles, cups, plastic bags, housewares and cosmetic packaging. This poses a great environmental concern, especially when only 6.6% of all the plastic produced in 2018 was recycled and only a small portion of plastic can actually be recycled in the first place: items marked 1, 2, and sometimes 5.

Left: Sampling for microplastics at the MountainTrue lab. Right: This tiny red fiber that showed up in our microplastics sampling is smaller than .5mm, and likely from a piece of fishing line or synthetic clothing. 

How We Sample For Plastics

MountainTrue has started sampling for plastics on the French Broad, Green and Watauga Rivers, and will begin plastics sampling on the Hiwassee River this spring. For the macroplastics portion, we ask volunteers to collect trash and record how long they were there, what types of plastic they find, what brands are most prevalent, the number of pieces collected in total and how much time the volunteers sampled for.

To assess the presence of microplastics, which are often too small for the naked eye to see, volunteers take a water sample at each site in a one-quart glass jar and bring them back to our lab. We then process the water samples via vacuum filtration, look at the filter paper underneath a microscope and record the number of microplastics found in each sample.

What Can You Do?

Personal change is important, but our consumer choices alone are not enough to spark systemic change. We cannot “recycle” our way out of this issue.

We need to ask our legislators to help protect our communities and ecosystems from single-use plastics. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was introduced to Congress in 2020, but did not make it to a floor vote. However, this bill will be reintroduced this month, and it provides a comprehensive plan to eliminate single-use plastics at a federal level. We encourage you to take action and sign the petition asking President Biden to be a #PlasticFreePresident here.

#PlasticFreePresident Action Items That President Biden Can Take Without Congress:

1. Use the purchasing power of the federal government to eliminate single use plastic items and replace them with reusable items.
Suspend and deny permits for new or expanded plastic production facilities

2. Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions

3. Advance environmental justice in petrochemical corridors

4. Update existing federal regulations to curtail pollution from plastic facilities by using best available science and technology

5. Stop subsidizing plastic producers

6. Join international efforts to address global plastic pollution

7. Reduce and mitigate the impacts of discarded and lost fishing gear


UPM Raflatac Supports A Cleaner French Broad River With Donation To MountainTrue

UPM Raflatac Supports A Cleaner French Broad River With Donation To MountainTrue

UPM Raflatac Supports A Cleaner French Broad River With Donation To MountainTrue

MountainTrue is pleased to partner with label material manufacturer UPM Raflatac which is sponsoring MountainTrue’s Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) through the company’s Bifore Share and Care grant program. MountainTrue’s volunteer-powered VWIN program features members of the public collecting water samples from over 30 sites throughout the French Broad River Water Basin every month.

“UPM Raflatac is committed to labeling a smarter future beyond fossils and supporting a cleaner environment,” explains Tyler Matusevich, Sustainability Manager, Americas, UPM Raflatac. “As part of that commitment, we support local organizations doing great work through our Biofore Share and Care grant program. With hundreds of our employees and their families in Western North Carolina, the preservation of our local waterways is of utmost importance and we are pleased to do our part.”

“This support is crucial to the work of MountainTrue,” explains MountainTrue Southern Regional Director Gray Jernigan. “The VWIN program is the foundation of our work to protect the water quality of the French Broad River and other local watersheds.”

The laboratory results and data collected through the VWIN program are vital to water protection efforts in the area, help MountainTrue track down and stop pollution at the source, and inform the policy advocacy initiatives of MountainTrue’s I Love Rivers campaign (www.ILoveRivers.org).

“We’re grateful to have a company like UPM Raflatac as part of our community,” says Gray, “Their commitment to the planet and generous support helps MountainTrue and our members continue to fight for responsible water use and clean waterways for future generations in Western North Carolina.”

UPM Raflatac develops innovative and sustainable labeling solutions that help businesses move beyond fossil fuels. As one of the world’s leading producers of self-adhesive label materials, it maintains a global network of factories, distribution terminals and sales offices, and operates two factories in Henderson County, North Carolina employing approximately 350 people.

MountainTrue’s VWIN program is administered by its Hendersonville-based Southern Regional Office. The water samples collected by our volunteers are analyzed by a state certified lab for various chemical and physical parameters (ammonia-nitrogen, nitrate/nitrite-nitrogen, orthophosphate, turbidity, total suspended solids, conductivity, alkalinity, and pH).

About MountainTrue
MountainTrue is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization that champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in Western North Carolina. MountainTrue envisions thriving communities in our mountain region that are connected to and help sustain both each other and our natural environment. To achieve this, MountainTrue fosters and empowers residents throughout the region to engage in community planning, policy and project advocacy, and on-the-ground projects.

About UPM Raflatac
UPM Raflatac is labeling a smarter future beyond fossils by developing innovative and sustainable labeling solutions. As one of the world’s leading producers of self-adhesive label materials, they supply high-quality paper and film label stock for consumer product and industrial labeling through a global network of factories, distribution terminals and sales offices.

UPM Raflatac works with brands and businesses by providing labeling solutions that support creative product packaging design, meet business goals and reach toward sustainability targets.

UPM Raflatac is part of the Finland-based UPM corporation – one of the biggest forest industry companies in the world. Two of the company’s three U.S. factories are in Henderson County in Mills River and Fletcher. Locally, they employ approximately 350 people.

To download photos, please click here: https://materialhub.upm.com/l/-kGqDXJKjcqT

Media Contact: 
Gray Jernigan, Southern Regional Director
E: gray@mountaintrue.org | C: 828-423-0578