Open this river, and along its banks in its fertile valleys rich fields of waving grain and snowy cotton will be seen where now the primeval forest rears itself, and among the hills and mountains which overlook its waters, will be heard the busy hum of machinery, the smoke of hundreds of furnaces will float upon the air, the banners of civilization; and upon its broad bosom will be borne the commerce of a mighty nation.
-Colonel W. B. Gaw, promoting the commercial potential of the Tennessee, 1869
I’ve studied the map and it’s given me a new outlook on how three different places fit together.
In "Mercury in Mountain Fish" (Smoky Mountain News, 9/10/08), Becky Johnson reported that walleye in Fontana and Santeetlah Lakes had tested positive for unsafe levels of mercury. TVA coal plants are the prime culprit for mercury contamination of the lakes in far western North Carolina.
One of those coal plants is between Kingston and Harriman, Tennessee. From Fontana Dam, it’s exactly 52 miles to the plant and the flood zone from a spill of coal ash residue on Monday. When coal is burned, mercury is among the substances released in the atmosphere and eventually reaching lakes such as Fontana and Santeetlah. The ash from burn coal is of concern for concentrated levels of lead, mercury and other contaminants. Oddly enough, the area near the Kingston plant is known for its waterfowl habitat. I have noted that a great deal of research has been done on toxins in coal ash and the possible impacts on birds inhabiting ash ponds. I’ll leave it to someone else to assess the results of that research.
Kingston Fossil (Steam) Plant
The third location on the map is 54 miles northeast of the TVA coal-burning plant, and only 74 miles from Fontana Dam. In Claiborne County, TN, near the Kentucky state line, is a huge surface mine. I’ve discovered that mountaintop removal mining is not practiced in Tennessee, but the distinction is more legal and semantic than anything else. Call it "steep slope mining" but it’s similar to the flattening of mountains in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
Claiborne County Mine
I would suppose that some of the coal from the mine in Claiborne County made its way to the Kingston Plant, and from there to us. All those issues and places are a lot closer than it seems as first glance.
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If mercury IS raining down on us, ever so gradually, who knows what the long-term health effects could be? Methylation is a complex process where mercury can convert to a more toxic form after it moves from the atmosphere to surface water. Higher acidity levels tend to enhance the mobility of mercury through the environment. The immune and neurological systems are especially vulnerable to the destructive effects of mercury. Chronic exposure to low levels of mercury has been linked, in one way or another, to the following diseases:
Anterior lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Immune system disorders
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
"Mercury in Mountain Fish" (Smoky Mountain News, 9/10/08)
TVA document on emissions from Kingston Fossil Plant
Birding at Kingston
Claiborne County Mine
Mountaintop Mining Factsheet
Background on Senator Patrick's Leahy's legislation to reduce mercury pollution
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