Report details extent of pollution in Wheeler Lake

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DECATUR, Ala. - Researchers at Auburn University have published an important paper on pollution in the Tennessee River at Decatur. We knew it was bad. We just didn't know it was this bad.

The report, "Novel Polyfluorinated Compounds Identified Using High Resolution Mass Spectrometry Downstream of Manufacturing Facilities near Decatur, Alabama" showed up recently in the publication Environmental Science and Technology. It proves what we've suspected all along. The pollution in Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River is already well above a very dangerous level.

“That's where the ones with the highest concentration were, right there,” Warriors for Clean Water spokesperson Ron Mixon says as he shows us the report.

Mixon has been sounding the alarm about pollution in the Tennessee River for a long time. In fact, a year ago last month, he guided us across Wheeler Lake and showed us where much of the pollution was coming from. Now he can show us exactly how much is there, and the numbers are staggering.

Water and sediment samples were taken from 10 different locations along Wheeler Lake in and near Decatur. They were tested for various PFC compounds, including PFOA and PFOS.

The cumulative totals in the water ranged from a low of 32.5 parts per trillion to a high of 754 parts per trillion. And that is high.

But the most alarming numbers were revealed in the sediment samples where the totals ranged from 222 parts per trillion to more than 47,000 parts per trillion.

By comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency set a standard of no more than 70 parts per trillion for finished drinking water.

“And there's no regulations pertaining to the dumping of these..."

“No, none,” Mixon quickly replied

“So they can just open the valve and let it run wide open as long as they want to if they need to,” we asked?

Nixon’s reply, ”Sure can."

3M manufactured the compounds for decades at their Decatur facility. The company maintains the mere presence of the compounds is not harmful. In a prepared statement they say, “We do not believe PFC’s such as PFOA and PFOS present any harm to human health at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood."

However, the levels found in Wheeler Lake are far from typical.

Mixon says the pollution has already killed off what used to be one of the most diverse mussel populations on the planet. He says the fish are almost gone, and the Alabama Department of Public Health has just issued a new warning about eating fish caught in the area.

So what does Mixon want people to know?

“It's not about them. It's about their kids and grand-kids because we’ve already been exposed and already been contaminated. This is a gene changing toxin. All of these are, which means it will affect your children and your children's children."

Those PFC compounds have been linked with several forms of cancer and other health issues. And, there are several lawsuits pending, filed by people who claim to have been harmed by exposure to these compounds. But here was something more in the report. We found confirmation of something we've suspected for quite some time but couldn't report because we had no evidence. Now we do.

We'll delve much deeper into the report Thursday on WHNT News 19 at 6:30.

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