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

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

Join North Carolina’s Riverkeepers in calling on state regulators to modernize its public notification system.

Millions of people across North Carolina take to our beaches, rivers and lakes to cool off, swim, paddle, and fish, but most are unaware that nearly 16 million gallons of untreated sewage has spilled into our waterways during a two and a half month period (May 17 to July 30) according to data collected by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

North Carolina desperately needs to update its public spill notification system. Current state law requires operators of wastewater collection and treatment systems to notify DEQ of spills of over 1,000 gallons into surface waters and to send a press release to local media within 24 hours. For spills of over 15,000 gallons, operators are required to place a notice in the newspapers of counties impacted by the spill within 10 days (NCGS 143-215.1C). Spills of other pollutants have similar reporting requirements to DEQ.

North Carolina should not be depending on ads in print newspapers to get the word out about dangerous spills. Newspapers are not mandated to run the press releases, and many local newspapers are only published in print on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which is not frequent enough to warn river users of water quality problems in a timely manner.

The public has the right to know about major pollution spills that impact our waterways as soon as possible, and through the technology the public uses today. Join North Carolina’s Riverkeepers in calling for a better, more modern system that would:

  • Publish spill data to an online database and interactive map and on agency social media channels
  • Send email and text alerts to interested parties.
  • Allow the public to sign up to receive these alerts for the watersheds that they are interested in.

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

MountainTrue Pollution Tip Leads to Enforcement Action Against Tryon International Equestrian Center

On July 27, MountainTrue followed up on a public complaint of sediment flowing into White Oak Creek from the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TEIC). Video showed a significant discharge of muddy water flowing off the site into the creek — a tributary of the Green River. MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan then reported the issue to the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources (DWR).

Two days later, on July 29, DWR sent an inspector to the equestrian center where they witnessed site contractors flushing sediment into the center’s stormwater drainage system, and failures in their stormwater management system. In all, DWR cited Tryon International Equestrian Center with four water quality violations that must be “abated immediately and properly resolved.” These violations, failure to resolve them quickly and remediate damage to the environment could result in civil penalties up to $25,000 per day for each violation.

“Tryon International Equestrian Center has been a repeat violator of water quality.” explains Gray Jernigan. “They were first cited in 2014, and it only got worse as they rushed to build new facilities ahead of the World Equestrian Games in 2018. They took shortcuts and chose not to employ standard best management and construction practices to keep sediment on site, and the problems persist.”

The Green Riverkeeper shared the video of the illegal discharge on its Instagram account where it sparked a public outcry, and elicited a response from Sharon Decker, President of Tryon Equestrian Partners, the owners and operators of the center. Decker assured the public that “we share the same concerns you do about the environment, water quality and strong stewardship.”

The Equestrian Center has received numerous violations from the NC Department of Environmental Quality over the years dating back to 2014, amassing tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

“They’ve made assurances to the community to clean up their act, but their efforts have fallen well short of what is expected of someone who professes to care about the environment,” says Gray. “I’ve offered to meet with them to discuss steps they can take to undo the damage done and protect our public waters, and I look forward to having a conversation with the leadership at TIEC.”

Media contacts:
Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper
C:828-423-0578 E: gray@mountaintrue.org

Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
C:415-535-9004


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Stand Up, Speak Out Against Asphalt Plant Proposed For East Flat Rock!

Stand Up, Speak Out Against Asphalt Plant Proposed For East Flat Rock!

ASPHALT PLANT PROPOSED FOR EAST FLAT ROCK!

STAND UP, SPEAK OUT!

PLANNING BOARD MEETING THURSDAY, JUNE 18 at 5:30 PM

By Gray Jernigan, Green Riverkeeper and Southern Regional Director for MountainTrue

We are very concerned about a proposal that quietly appeared on the Henderson County Planning agenda: A developer has applied for conditional rezoning requesting that the County conditionally rezone 6.5 acres located at the intersection of Spartanburg Highway (US-176) and US-25 to a conditional district to construct a new asphalt plant. The property is currently zoned Community Commercial (CC) and is surrounded by residential zoning.

A virtual Neighborhood Compatibility Meeting was held via Zoom on Monday, June 8. You can watch the entire four hour meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cvf2wGfhtBA

The big takeaway from the Neighborhood Compatibility Meeting was that there is absolutely no way that this project is appropriate for the location and that the rezoning request should be denied. Thank you to the 115 community members that tuned in, to the over 160 community members that submitted questions in advance, and to more than 50 people that asked questions live during the meeting, none of which we believe were sufficiently answered by the developer.

While we appreciate everything that the County Planning staff did to make this meeting accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were still unable to join. This is because not everyone has access to a computer, internet access, an internet connection strong enough to support streaming services, or access to the Zoom streaming service. Others were able to attend but not able to comment because they used an older version of Zoom, had technical difficulties or did not have a computer microphone to speak, or tuned in via YouTube and were not able to ask questions. For all of these reasons, we believe meetings of this nature are inappropriate during this time, and the decision making timeline should be postponed or extended to accommodate public participation.

We have a number of environmental and community concerns about the proposed plant, and we will be asking Henderson County officials to deny the rezoning request. Here are some of our concerns:

  • Air Pollution – Asphalt fumes are known toxins and contain pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems, and skin irritation.
  • Water Pollution – Runoff of pollutants from the site would impact Laurel Creek, which flows to the Green River.
  • Public Lands – The site is dangerously close to the Green River Game Lands, which would be on the receiving end of air and water pollution.
  • Community Health – A study by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) showed 45% of residents living within a half mile of a new asphalt plant reported a deterioration of their health, which began after the plant opened.
  • Environmental Justice – The site is near a low-income community that would bear the brunt of air and water pollution, dust, noise, truck traffic, and exposure to harmful toxins. Low income communities are disproportionately impacted by industrial facilities across the nation, and that’s not right.

Here’s what we need you to do:

    •  

Now is the time to stand up, speak out, and put a stop to this pollution factory before it even gets started! Join us in the fight!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Take Action To Protect The Clean Water Act From Polluters

Take Action To Protect The Clean Water Act From Polluters

Take Action To Protect The Clean Water Act From Polluters

Our clean water is in danger. In the midst of the pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has snuck in proposed amendments to the Clean Water Act that would have detrimental effects on public health, natural systems, and the economy. These amendments would change the definition of “waters of the United States” to mean fewer wetlands and bodies of water would be under federal protection. The amendments could easily go unnoticed because they have been named the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” despite these rules doing anything but protecting our water.

The culture of Western North Carolina is intertwined with water, with recreation and local economies both heavily reliant on water-based activities. MountainTrue’s Clean Water Team works hard to monitor and improve the quality of water in the region, but this rule would create a huge challenge for our daily work.

 

Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Protect Our Rivers By Supporting Sustainable Farms

Protect Our Rivers By Supporting Sustainable Farms

Protect Our Rivers By Supporting Sustainable Farms

We have compiled this map of farms in our region that feed us without threatening rivers, lakes and streams. The inventory at these farms varies, but they all have one thing in common: They’re going the extra mile to do things the right way.


Farms are color-coded by watershed. Click the pinpoints on the map to view a description of each farm.
To see the farms listed by watershed, click the icon on the top left of the map or scroll below.

Many small farms in Western North Carolina have lost business due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, large-scale meat operations in North Carolina are one of the leading contributors to water pollution in the state. Buying from sustainable local farms now is a way to not only feed your family but to protect our fragile environment.

Many farmers are still happy to have people come out to their farms. Check their websites or Facebook pages, because these small farms may request that you order over the phone or online to arrange pick-up. If you aren’t able to buy directly from a farmer, be sure to look for their products at farmer’s markets and grocery stores in your neighborhood, as many supply to local distributors. We have not included farms that are currently closed to the public.

To build our impact, sign the pledge to support sustainable farms below!

 

 

Sustainable Farms List

Broad Watershed

  • Belflower Farm
  • Beam Family Farms
  • Colfax Creek Farm
  • Greene Family Farm
  • Hardscrabble Hollow Farm
  • Martins’ Charolais Farm
  • Piedmont Homestead
  • Proffitt Family Cattle Company
  • A Way of Life Farm

French Broad Watershed

  • Cold Mountain Angus Beef
  • Creekside Farm at Walnut Cove
  • Farmhouse Beed
  • Frog Holler Organiks
  • Gaining Ground Farm
  • Hickory Nut Gap Farm
  • Hominy Valley Farms
  • Leatherwood Family Farm
  • Lenoir’s Creek Beef and Bakery
  • Sunburst Trout Farms®
  • Shady Brook Farm
  • Smoky Mountain Mangalista
  • Sunburst Beef LLC
  • Ten Acre Garden

Green River Watershed

  • Looking Glass Creamery
  • Once Upon a Cow Micro Dairy
  • San Felipe Farm
  • Sunny Creek Farms
  • Bearded Birds Farm

Hiwassee River Watershed

  • 7M Family Farms, LLC
  • Brothers on Farms
  • SMM Farms
  • Walnut Hollow Ranch – Premium Black Angus Beef

Upper Tennessee River Watershed

  • 4 Corners Ranch

Little Tennessee River Watershed

  • Breedlove Family Farms
  • Carringer Farms
  • Darnell Farms
  • Deal Family Farm
  • Gnome Mountain Farm
  • J.W. Mitchell Farm
  • JAAR Farms
  • Pine Row Farm
  • Yellow Branch Pottery and Cheese

Watauga River Watershed

  • A Bushel and a Peck Farm
  • Against the Grain Farm
  • Beach Farm and Nursery
  • Creeksong Farm
  • Daffodil Spring Farm
  • Faith Mountain Farm
  • Fire from the Mountain
  • New Life Farm
  • North Fork Farm
  • Shipley Farms Signature Beef
  • Sunshine Cove
  • Heritage Homestead Farm

Yadkin Watershed

  • Asa Acres
  • Aunt Bessie’s Natural Farm

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.