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HEALTH CONSULTATION

COPPER BASIN MINING DISTRICT, OPERABLE UNIT 2
COPPERHILL, POLK COUNTY, TENNESSEE

 

DISCUSSION

Decades of erosion in the basin has deposited large amounts of sediment in the Oconee River and Oconee No. 3 Reservoir. About 80 percent of the original volume of Oconee Reservoir No. 3 has been filled in with sediment, and the average depth is only 6 feet [1]. Aquatic life has been adversely impacted by sediment deposition, as well as by contaminants discharged by Davis Mill Creek and North Potato Creek.

Staff from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation reported that, as result of this environmental degradation, there is little sports fishing in the Operable

Unit 2 portion of the Oconee River. However, if water quality in the river improves, sports fishing could return. This could pose a public health hazard to consumers of potentially contaminated fish. Although fish can take up contaminants from water and sediment, water soluble metals are only slightly bioconcentrated. Of the metals present in Oconee River water and sediment, lead poses the greatest health risk. In fresh water fish, whole-body bioconcentration factors of 24-45 for lead have been reported [2]. There is evidence that the lead would be localized in the epidermis, dermis, scales, and bones; so some of the lead would be in non-edible portions of the fish [3]. Because of the relatively low environmental lead levels and the relatively low bioconcentration in edible fish tissues, consumption of fish from the Oconee River and Reservoir No. 3 would not be expected to pose a public health hazard.

If water quality in the Oconee River improves, the population of sports fish could increase. Because of the improvement in water quality, contaminant levels in the fish would be concurrently reduced. This would further reduce the risk associated with fish consumption.

The portion of the Ocoee River downstream of Dam No. 3 is extensively used for white water rafting and kyaking. Recreational use of the portion of the Oconee River in Operable Unit 2 occurs much less frequently. Metals are poorly absorbed through intact human skin. Therefore, even if human contact with river water and sediment did occur during such activities, it would not pose a public health hazard.

Water from the Oconee River in Operable Unit 2 is not used for potable purposes. Therefore, direct human ingestion of significant quantities of river water is unlikely.



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