Trump EPA orders rollback of Obama mercury regulations

TDEC issues advisories after smallmouth bass in Abrams Creek, Little River exceed mercury trigger points...
Smallmouth bass in Abrams Creek and Little River exceeded mercury trigger points recommended by both the EPA and FDA.

TDEC has said it considers the source of mercury within Great Smoky Mountains National Park to be atmospheric deposition. According to the EPA, atmospheric deposition due to the global burning of coal is the most frequent reason for elevated levels of mercury in fish. TDEC will post warning signs at public access points and will work with the National Park Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to communicate this information to the public.

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In our area...today

People are aware that mercury in the Clinch River and Lower Watts Bar Reservoir is from historical sources in Oak Ridge. What is less well known is that there is mercury in the Emory River, too. Different watershed. The mercury upstream in the Emory River did not come from Oak Ridge (though there may have been some deposited at the mouth of the Emory with occasional backflow from the Clinch).

I asked the state about the source(s) of mercury in the Emory. This is what is known at this time. From Lee Baron, TDEC Knoxville Field Office (December, 2018):

It is our understanding that the mercury contamination in the Emory River is primarily due to aerial deposition from coal combustion, and that the primary source in the Emory River watershed is the TVA Kingston Steam Plant. Additional probable secondary sources are from residential and commercial establishments burning coal for heat during the winter. There were also historical industrial sources in Rockwood, TN (former steel mills) that burned coal, and would have contributed to the aerial deposition of mercury as well.

These are historical sources. The steam plant now has the technology to reduce the mercury in effluents to our waterways and aerial emissions. Nonetheless, fish consumption advisories in our area stand.

Wouldn't we be contaminated

Wouldn't we be contaminated just from breathing the air that's polluting the water that's contaminating the fish?

Aerial mercury releases

Aerial mercury releases are widely dispersed in the atmosphere and go global. At our TVA-KIF site, significant mercury is removed in the flue gas desulfurization step therefore not released in gaseous emissions or effluents in our waterways.

Here’s a link that shows the mercury cycle including multiple sources of mercury releases. See Figure 1 on page 2 of the report Geologic Studies of Mercury by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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People who live in confined spaces (e.g., hogan, tent, or hut) with little ventilation when they cook or heat with coal may need to be concerned about inhalation of particulate matter in coal combustion products including mercury and other toxic substances. Research is underway.

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