Department of Environment and Conservation Issues Advisory for Beech Creek in Wayne County

Friday, August 13, 2010 | 11:04 am
Mercury Discovered in Sediment
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has issued advisories against wading in Beech Creek in Wayne County, or consuming fish, turtles or other aquatic life from the creek or its embayment on the Tennessee River. The presence of elemental mercury has been discovered at one location in the creek, making the advisory necessary. The presence of mercury was confirmed both visually and by laboratory analyses.
“Elemental mercury is toxic, particularly in vapor form, and should never be handled. We urge people to follow these advisories,” said Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Paul Sloan. “The department is working to determine the extent of the mercury contamination and identify a source, if possible. As additional information is uncovered, we will refine the boundaries of the advisory and update the community.” 
Beech Creek is a small eastside tributary of the Tennessee River in Wayne County. The deposit of an unknown amount of mercury was discovered near the community of Leatherwood as a result of a tip from a citizen. Staff from the department’s Columbia Field Office visually confirmed the presence of mercury and collected a sediment sample, which indicated a high level of mercury. A water sample at the same site had non-detectable levels of mercury. 
“We will be collecting fish and working with the Department of Health to analyze fish tissue for the presence of mercury,” said Paul Davis, Director of the department’s Division of Water Pollution Control. “Until we have that data, we think it best that people not eat fish from the creek.”
In the next few weeks, the department will:
  • Perform surveys along the length of Beech Creek, visually looking for mercury deposits in sediment. Sediment samples will be collected at a number of stations.
  • Collect fish at several locations for analysis in conjunction with the Department of Health.
  • Determine if any local residents are currently using Beech Creek as a residential water source.  
  • Until the extent of mercury deposits are known, the department will not authorize disturbances to Beech Creek.
“The mercury discovered in the creek was under several inches of sediment so we believe the risk of dermal contact is small unless someone physically digs into the bottom of the creek,” said Davis. “Mercury is heavy and will sink to the lowest possible elevation in the creek, such as cracks in rocks and pools. There is no mercury exposure danger from simply coming in contact with water from Beech Creek.” 
More information about fishing and water contact advisories in Tennessee can be found on TDEC’s Web site at