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Environmental Groups Promote 'Clean Sweeps' to De-junk Riverbanks

Dozens of these cleanups together netted 25,000 pounds of trash in 2021

May 12 is Ohio River Day by state proclamation. Several local environmental agencies celebrated together by holding a ‘river clean sweep.’

Leadership from the EPA, Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) walked along the rocky banks of the Ohio River in downtown Evansville. They’re crunching on corn stalks that have washed out here from upstream and grabbing garbage and sticking it in plastic bags.

Richard Harrison is Executive Director of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission. He said these clean sweeps picked up 25,000 pounds of trash from along the river in 2021.

“So it's a continuous process, you know, as the river flows," he said. "At higher levels like it is right now, it will subside, and it will leave a lot of plastics and other debris on the riverbank as part of that process. So the cleanup work is ongoing.” Harrison said the goal is to stop trash from getting into the river in the first place.

Debra Shore is Regional Administrator for the EPA. She says the trash can come from anywhere.

“First of all, don't litter because some of what we're collecting is wind blown off of streets, into rivers and sewage stations and so on.” She encourages anyone who can to safely join a clean sweep event, or just grab some trash on their own.

"Because the styrofoam and plastics break up into smaller and smaller particles," she said. "And they end up in fish in their their skin and their guts. And it's bad for Habitat bad for aquatic life.”

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Tim Jagielo
Styrofoam is especially damaging to river wildlife because of its ability to break down into smaller pieces.