Chattahoochee River officials concerned about rising amount of PPE pollution in water

The gloves and the masks people have been wearing throughout the pandemic have to go somewhere when they’re thrown away.

But environmentalists say too often that people’s personal protective equipment are ending up on the ground and then in the Chattahoochee River.

“It really blew me away how much of these small pieces of plastic are free-floating down in the water,” Jason Ulseth told Channel 2 Action News. “You’re not just littering there, but you’re impacting our river system and our water supplies."

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper took part in the annual “Sweep the Hooch” cleanup a week and a half ago on the river. He’s worried about a rise in potentially contaminated PPE in the water.

“Pre-COVID, I don’t think we ever would find plastic gloves or masks, you know, in the tributaries and in the river. And we certainly are finding them now,” Ulseth said.

With heavy rain in the forecast this week, Ulseth worries the problem may get worse.

“Because these heavy rains will wash this stuff, break it down and take it into the river. And people don’t make that connection between water pollution and litter,” he said.


Flooding plans are already underway in metro Atlanta counties like Cherokee. Staff at the emergency operations center are preparing to go all hands on deck in case of local flooding from Hurricane Sally remnants.

“There is potential for some pretty significant stuff here, so we will be monitoring that to stay open, depending on what happens and when it gets here,” Craig Millsap with Cherokee’s emergency operations center told Channel 2′s Tom Regan.

In Cobb County, Channel 2′s Chris Jose saw transportation crews out in areas prone to flooding. They are using vacuums to suck out debris in trouble spots.

“Just trying to get ahead of the storms coming in. make sure our drains are clear,” Cobb County DOT’s Bill Limbaugh said.

As for PPE pollution - the trouble spots are large open areas like parking lots.

“So I actually carry pickers in my car, and I will walk around my car when I go to the grocery store and pick up you know, some of these gloves and some of these masks left behind,” Ulseth said.

Fewer disposable PPE are being used six months into the pandemic. That’s helping with pollution. But some say not enough has been done to limit contamination in the river.

“We’re not anywhere where we need to be,” Ulseth said.