Front Porch Blog

Elevated Selenium Levels Found in TN Streams

From the folks at United Mountain Defense, comes the sad but unsurprising news that Tennessee watersheds are suffering from surface mining. New stream data shows some of the highest selenium levels ever collected by UMD.

Selenium In Water Points to Destruction of Appalachian Streams, Water Quality

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (April 03, 2013) – New water testing results obtained by United Mountain Defense (UMD) from a proposed coal strip mine near Claiborne, Tennessee show levels of selenium- an element known to cause developmental abnormalities- in water high enough to disrupt or destroy ecosystems and potentially effect human health.

The water testing, conducted on the site of Cooper’s Ridge (36.553086,-83.892117) and the site of a proposed surface strip mine by Kopper Glo Fuels LLC, analyzed 10 water samples from sediment pond discharge points. This analysis detected selenium at four testing points, ranging from 1.1 to as high as 5.0 mcg/L (parts per billion).

“These are some of the highest levels of selenium ever detected by our organization” said James Kane, UMD president and director of field operations, “5.0 mcg/L is unbelievable- this level of selenium is death for wildlife and could affect all downstream users. What happens to children who play in these streams? These results show that the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) are utterly failing the people of Tennessee by allowing these toxic discharges and not adequately regulating mining activities.”

OSM and TDEC have not identified potential selenium sources or taken any steps to effectively control its discharge throughout Tennessee. Selenium can cause birth defects and pathological deformities in wildlife, as well as loss of nails, hair, tooth decay and mental debilitation in people. Selenium pollution commonly occurs when coal mining happens close to streams and other surface waters.

UMD has also submitted permit comments and requested hearings with OSM but has has heard nothing from the regulatory authority, which oversees mining activities in Tennessee.

Raised on the banks of the Tennessee River, JW's work to create progress in his home state and throughout Appalachia has been featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Kos and Grist. He served first as Appalachian Voices’ Legislative Associate and then Tennessee director until leaving to pursue a career in medicine in 2012.


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