Saturday, December 27, 2008

Closer Than They Appear

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.

Fontana Dam

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.

View Larger Map

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)
Cardiovascular disease
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Crohn’s disease
Developmental defects
Hormonal dysfunction
Intestinal dysfunction
Immune system disorders
Kidney disease
Learning disorders
Liver disorders
Metabolic encephalopathy
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Reproductive disorders
Parkinson’s disease
Senile dementia
Thyroid disease

"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


Anonymous said...

Fresh water fish were a staple of my youth, procured by my father and myself; largemouth bass in the summer, crappie on occasion, and white bass by the coolerful when they ran in schools in the spring. You learned things on the lake, and got handy with a filet knife.

At home or at Granny's the quarry went into cornmeal with a little salt and pepper, and crispy browned pieces took their place beside slaw (we made white slaw), sliced tomatoes, biscuits, and home fries.

Now we are told that our intake of this fish should be sharply limited, and I have done so to avoid growing an auxiliary head.

Shame, and shame. I miss it, whether with cane poles from the bank or with Lunker Stix and crankbaits from Daddy's old Chrysler bassboat. I taught catch-and-releae, but its not the same as catching dinner.

Even so, you still see people at Tillery and Badin taking home stringers of trotlined catfish out of necessity or habit.

Class of '74

GULAHIYI said...


Seems like that's what I always pulled out of Badin Lake (or the canal, actually).

We used to drop traps in the lake and come back later for a load of fish. Carp, I think.

It's strange to look over Fontana Lake and consider the fish are carrying so much mercury that an advisory has been issued. I mean, it's not like heavy industry is dumping very much (relatively speaking) upstream.

I'm always a bit suspicious of over-blown disasters, but in this case, methinks TVA is minimizing the issue too much. I think the natural systems (including us) can tolerate low-level neurotoxins ... up to a point. We probably haven't begun to figure out the consequences of going past that point. And they call it clean coal!

I'm hungry now for that down-home cooking. Sounds good!