The Tennessee River has an alarming amount of microplastics that could threaten the health of species in the world’s most aquatically biodiverse freshwater ecosystem, scientists warn.

Results of the most comprehensive study on surface pollutants in the Tennessee River’s history were unveiled Wednesday morning at the Tennessee Aquarium’s Conservation Institute. The study found the river is mainly healthy with the exception of a shocking amount of microplastic — small pieces of plastic that pollution breaks into. The pollution was attributed to the region’s culture of littering, citizens’ lack of involvement in recycling, and the amount of plastic packaging in the U.S.

“I was shocked when I analyzed the microplastics,” said German scientist Andreas Fath, who conducted the study. “We triple-checked the results because it was so much different.”

The Tennessee River has 80 percent more microplastic than China’s Yangtze River — which a study found to be the source of 55 percent of all river-born plastic entering the ocean — and 8,000 percent higher than the much more heavily populated Rhine River in Europe.

The research was conducted during a record-setting 652-mile swim over 34 days by Fath. Last year, he became the second person to swim the entire Tennessee River and the fastest person to do it.

Read more at Times Free Press.