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Special Collections Online at The University of Tennessee

Oak Ridge Mercury Loss News Clippings

 Collection
Identifier: MS-3797

This collection consists of photocopied newspaper clippings from 1983 to 1986 detailing mercury loss into East Fork Poplar Creek in Oak Ridge, Tennessee from the Y-12 plant. The clippings include documentation of public controversy and fear surrounding this revealed exposure by the Department of Energy in addition to the subsequent Congressional hearing and later efforts to clean up the environment contaminated by the mercury loss.

The first folder include photocopies of newspaper clippings originally held in a three-ring binder scrapbook. It primarily contains publications from local news publications including the Knoxville Journal, Knoxville-News Sentinel, and The Oak Ridger. However, the national reaching of this controversy is demonstrated from included publications such as The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. The second folder contains photocopies from the Knoxville Journal, The Oak Ridger, and Journal Nashville Bureau detailing the mercury leak, the controversy and figures surrounding it, and information regarding the potential detrimental effects of mercury poisoning.

Dates

  • 1983 May 18-1986 December 11

Language

These materials are written in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library.

Extent

0.1 Linear Feet (2 folders)

Abstract

This collection consists of photocopied newspaper clippings from 1983 to 1986 detailing mercury loss into East Fork Poplar Creek in Oak Ridge, Tennessee from the Y-12 plant. The clippings include documentation of public controversy and fear surrounding this revealed exposure by the Department of Energy in addition to the subsequent Congressional hearing and later efforts to clean up the environment contaminated by the mercury loss.

Biographical/Historical Note

In the 1960s and '70s, it was determined that inorganic mercury could be converted into methylmercury in water, negatively affecting fish and causing brain and nervous system damage to exposed humans. In 1982, the state of Tennessee and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) posted signs warning humans against consuming fish from Poplar and East Fork Poplar Creek in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. On May 17, 1983, the DOE released 1977 declassified reports of mercury loss of over 18,000 gallons from the Y-12 plant of Oak Ridge into the East Fork Poplar Creek. Y-12 worked to separate lithium isotopes for use in hydrogen bombs in the 1950s which resulted in the mercury loss.

This mercury loss resulted in controversy and fear as documented in local newspaper articles; talks of an alleged governmental cover-up of the degree of mercury-loss as well as its detriment to the citizens of Oak Ridge headlined local publications and resulted in even national media acknowledgment. Subsequently, on July 11,1983, Oak Ridge held a Congressional hearing in the presence of Tennessee U.S. Representatives Al Gore and Marilyn Lloyd to discuss the scope of the government’s role in the contamination and its implications. As a result, Y-12 and the DOE began ongoing attempts to reduce the presence of mercury in East Fork Poplar Creek.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

Contact:
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA
865-974-4480