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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Region IV (EPA) asked the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to assess the public health impact of environmental contamination at the Copper Basin Mining District site. This consultation will address only the human health impact of contamination at the site. Although mining activities and related contamination have dramatically affected the environment and biota at the site, these issues are outside the scope of ATSDR.

The Copper Basin Mining District Site is located in Polk County, Tennessee. Commercial mining operations began in the region in the mid 1800s. A large complex mining and production facility operated in the basin for years and included mining, milling, floatation, roasting, smelting, and producing bulk chemicals (primarily sulfuric acid).

The subject area covers 30 square miles and includes the now defunct Tennessee Chemical Company (TCC) and other areas that have been impacted by mining activities. The TCC ceased mining activities in the basin in 1987 and declared bankruptcy in 1989. Much of the land formerly owned by TCC was auctioned off and is now in private hands.

The EPA divided the site into six operable units. This health consultation will address contamination in Operable Unit 3. The most prominent feature in Operable Unit 3 is the London Mill Flotation Plant (LMFP). The LMFP is an inactive ore processing facility where iron, copper, and zinc sulfides were separated from waste rock by a flotation process. Various mining interests owned and operated the facility from 1947 to 1987. The main building and the adjacent structures at the site are in ruins and in danger of further collapse. An open mine shaft that is partially filled with water poses an additional physical hazard at the site.

In 1997, PRC environmental Management, Inc., a contractor for EPA, conducted environmental sampling at the site. This consultation will focus on the results of this environmental sampling, since these data provide the most recent characterization of environmental contamination at the site.

Samples of waste material, surface soil, sediment, and surface water were collected and analyzed for metals and organic chemicals. The primary contaminants of concern detected in the environmental media were copper, lead, and manganese. The maximum concentrations of contaminants detected are presented in the following table.

Table 1: Maximum concentrations of contaminants in environmental media in Operable Unit 3(a)

copper lead manganese
waste 6,100 3,600 1,500
surface soil 34,000 J 1,100 JN 1,100
sediment 4,500 J 1,200 JN 630
surface water 150 31 JN 28,000

(a) waste, surface soil, and sediment - parts per million (ppm)
surface water - parts per billion (ppb)
J - estimated value
N - presumptive evidence of presence of material

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