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Volunteers sought for ORSANCO’s 2024 Ohio River Sweep beginning Friday, runs through October 31

(Photo from ORSANCO)

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is calling on environmental stewards to participate in an Ohio River Sweep litter cleanup event this year.

Ohio River Sweep is an annual, volunteer cleanup program that runs from March 1 through October 31 and extends the entire length of the Ohio River. Thousands of volunteers remove trash at hundreds of locations during this time and anyone can volunteer. Free supplies, including gloves, trash bags, and souvenir T-shirts, are shipped directly to event hosts.

The Ohio River Sweep litter cleanup program encompasses the entire length of the Ohio River, from its origin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to its end in Cairo, Illinois, including nearly 3,000 miles of shoreline and many tributaries. Thousands of volunteers from public organizations, civic groups, recreational clubs, and the general public in six states bordering the river come together to remove tons of trash and debris.

The award-winning litter cleanup program has occurred each year since 1989 and is organized by ORSANCO, The Foundation for Ohio River Education (FORE), and a wide variety of watershed groups and environmental protection agencies from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. More than 420,000 tons of trash and debris have been collected in the last four years of the program.

Several unusual items have been found during the cleanup, including a class ring (Metropolis, IL) that was later turned over to its owner; a wedding dress (Jefferson County, OH); phone booth (Pittsburgh, PA); an uncashed check for $55,000 (Oldham County, KY); and various appliances, car parts, yard decorations, and furniture.

Volunteers for the Ohio River Sweep have made tremendous progress over the years cleaning the Ohio River. However, litter continues to be a global problem.

“It’s important for everyone in the Ohio River Basin to remember we are all a part of this watershed and by working together these types of clean up events have a major impact on the global issue of litter pollution,” said ORSANCO Executive Director Richard Harrison. “I participate in several events each year. It’s always inspiring to see the camaraderie gained when working together to improve the quality of our communities. It creates a connection and sense of belonging to a local purpose with a global impact.”

ORSANCO regularly monitors the Ohio River for pollution and understands the harmful impact of litter.

“We believe each volunteer contribution is valuable and see first hand the positive change a single person can make by participating in an Ohio River Sweep cleanup event,” Harrison said.

The Ohio River is one of the nation’s great natural resources and is a source of drinking water for more than 5 million people, as well as an important economic and cultural asset. Litter pollution can negatively affect water quality, leach toxins into the environment, and harm wildlife, ruining the aesthetic and recreational opportunities of the river.

The most commonly found litter item during cleanup events is single use plastic, which can degrade and break down over time, forming what is known as microplastics. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that can leach toxins and be ingested by wildlife that mistake it for food. By removing plastic litter before it breaks down, volunteers can limit the amount of microplastics in the Ohio River.

Why Volunteer for Ohio River Sweep:

• Environmental stewardship – be a part of the solution to litter pollution.

• Civic Responsibility – invest in the public health of your community and the people who live in it.

• Networking opportunity – lead a cleanup event for your organization, conference, and social events.

• Meet new people – connect with others and build relationships.

Ohio River Facts:

• The Ohio River forms in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and flows generally southwest for 981 miles to join the Mississippi River near Cairo, Illinois.

• The Ohio River drains 203,940 square miles, approximately five percent of the contiguous United States.

• 29 public water utilities use the Ohio River as their source, supplying drinking water to over five million people.

• 35 power-generating facilities located along the river provide over five percent of the United States’ power generating capacity.

• The Ohio River serves as a transportation artery for commercial navigation. Each year, barges carry over 180 million tons of cargo, primarily coal, along the river.

• The Ohio River provides a source of recreation and a thriving warm water habitat for over 160 species of fish, drawing boaters, fishermen, and nature enthusiasts.

Ohio River Sweep Facts:

• Anyone can volunteer at an existing event location or sign up to host an event.

• Electronic resources available like an interactive event map that allows volunteers to find existing cleanup locations and a toolkit to help hosts facilitate a cleanup event.

• Ohio River Sweep souvenir T-shirt design created by local students at the Cincinnati Art Academy.

• In 2023, there were 121 cleanup events, 4,596 volunteers, and approximately 85 tons of litter and 902 tires were collected and removed from the Ohio River watershed.

• Learn more at orsanco.org

The Ohio River Sweep program is entirely funded through grants and corporate sponsorships. Donations help provide program resources, volunteer supplies, and promotional materials that make this event successful. Lead sponsors of the 2024 season include: Berry Global, Cleveland-Cliffs, DuPont, Marathon Petroleum, Milacron, Conifer and Current Hydro, North American Stainless, Ohio EPA, Shell Polymers, WAVE Foundation, and SD1. To see the full list of sponsors or make a donation, visit www.orsanco.org/sponsors

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