U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will headline a press gig Friday morning in Oak Ridge to announce plans related to mercury cleanup in Oak Ridge. According to information released by Alexander’s office, he’ll be joined by Robert Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; David Huizenga, senior advisor for environmental management at Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, and Mark Whitney, DOE’s environmental chief in Oak Ridge.
Extensive mercury pollution grew out of the Cold War development of thermonuclear weapons at Y-12, when tons of the toxic metal were released into East Fork Poplar Creek and the surrounding environment. Releases into East Fork continue to exceed Clean Water standards, and multiple projects have been undertaken to reduce those discharges and determine the extent of contamination at the Y-12 site.
Last month at a Senate hearing, Alexander quizzed Ernie Moniz, the Obama administration nominee for Energy Secretary, about his commitment to mercury cleanup in Oak Ridge.
Alexander has pushed for an accelerated schedule to reduce the mercury pollution, which he has made a priority. The senator has said on multiple occasions that he believes mercury poses a bigger concern that the radioactive materials, which have generally gotten more attention at Oak Ridge and other DOE sites.
One of the top priorities is to treat the wastewaters coming out of Y-12 to remove mercury before it can enter East Fork and pollute downstream ecosystems.
Earlier this year, a research team headed by ORNL scientists announced a major breakthrough in understanding how mercury behaves and converts to its most toxic form in the environment.
ORNL PHOTO: Mercury globules in soil samples from contaminated site at Y-12.