Sen. Alexander: Oak Ridge to get new water plant to treat mercury contamination

photo Lamar Alexander

A new water treatment plant will be built to combat mercury contamination in water near Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced today.

The Tennessee Republican joined with officials from Oak Ridge, the state of Tennessee and the U.S. Department of Energy to press for more resources to clean up mercury contamination existing mercury contamination, as problems like radioactive waste improve.

In a news release, Alexander called mercury pollution "one of the biggest problems we have from the Cold War era."

He spoke at a news conference announcing plans for a water filtration facility at the head of the East Fork Poplar Creek. Mercury contamination can cause brain and nervous system damage in people who eat contaminated fish.

"This water treatment plant is a major step in addressing one of the biggest problems we have from the Cold War era - mercury once used to make nuclear weapons getting into our waterways," Alexander said. "As we finish other cleanup priorities, like cleaning up radioactive waste at the East Tennessee Technology Park, we need to strengthen our commitment to dealing with the mercury that's already gotten into waterways at Oak Ridge."

About 200,000 gallons of mercury was used at Oak Ridge during the 1950s and 1960s as the United States built up its nuclear arms, the release stated. About 18,000 gallons have been lost to the environment or are otherwise unaccounted for.