A scientist who happens to be a world-class distance swimmer has traveled the length of the Tennessee River — all 652 miles of it, through multiple states.
But the long swim wasn’t just an ego boost. German swimmer/scientist Andreas Fath, of Furtwangen University, and his local TenneSwim team said the 34-day journey allowed for a close examination of water quality.
In the rivers and lakes along the way, Fath looked like any other glint of sun — only he was accompanied by a kayak (to stay on path) and an 18-foot pontoon boat carrying scientists and supporters.
So while the swimmer covered about 20 miles per day from Knoxville to Huntsville to Paducah, the crew gathered samples.
“Just the visual inspection of the river was, to me, kind of an eye-opener. It was cleaner than I thought it would be,” said Martin Knoll, professor of geology and hydrology at Sewanee and project director for the swim.
He said the initial on-board testing looked promising, with healthy levels of dissolved oxygen and low nitrates and phosphates from agricultural run-off.
But lab work is still to come.
“Over the next few months we’ll get the results back for a whole range of metals, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, hormones, pesticides, really, over 600 chemicals in total,” Knoll said.
Whatever the findings, Knoll said the swim should remind those in the watershed — some 5 million people — to stay diligent, taking care during oil changes, keeping plastics out of the water and never flushing medicines down the toilet.