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Copper Basin Mining District


Before: London Mill Water Treatment Plant Area circa 1993

After: London Mill Water Treatment Plant Area circa 2009
- Environmental Legacy Site Photos
- Historic Site Photos

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Additional Resources
Site Summary Profile
EPA ID: TN0001890839
Location: Polk County, TN
Lat/Long: 34.994756, -084.38248
Congressional District: 03
NPL Status: Superfund Alternative Approach
Affected Media: Sediments, Soil, Surface water
Cleanup Status: Study underway and construction underway – physical cleanup activities have started
Human Exposure Under Control: NA
Groundwater Migration Under Control: NA
Sitewide Ready for Anticipated Use: NA
Site Reuse/Redevelopment: None
Site Manager(s): Loften Carr (carr.loften@epa.gov),
Craig Zeller (zeller.craig@epa.gov)

Current Status

The Copper Basin Mining District site includes parts of the North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek watersheds and a 26-mile-long reach of the Ocoee River affected by mining activities that took place from the late 1800s until the 1980s. EPA did not list the site on the National Priorities List (NPL) butconsiders it an NPL-caliber site and is addressing it through the Superfund Alternative Approach. EPA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), and the site’s potentially responsible (PRPs), have investigated site conditions and taken steps to clean up the site in order to protect people and the environment from contamination. Site contamination does not currently threaten people living and working near the site. By conducting cleanup activities, EPA, TDEC and the site’s PRPs continue to protect people and the environment from site contamination.

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Site Location and Background

The site is located in Polk County in southeast Tennessee and Fannin County in northern Georgia, near the state border with North Carolina. The site includes portions of the North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek watersheds and a 26-mile-long reach of the Ocoee River. Areas surrounding the site include forested areas and properties held by private owners or by the U.S. Forest Service. Areas used for outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, hunting and whitewater rafting, are located near the site.

From the late 1800s until the 1980s, mining, processing, chemical manufacturing and waste disposal occurred at the site. The Ocoee River received wastes and erosion from the watershed areas. Mining and processing operations resulted in the erosion and transportation of tens of millions of cubic yards of soil to the Ocoee River. Mining operations ended in 1987 and chemical production ended in 2000. In 2001, EPA, TDEC and the site’s PRPs entered into legal agreements to protect the Ocoee River and restore the site.

Map of the Copper Basin Mining District

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Threats and Contaminants

Site investigations found contamination in sediment, soil and surface water that could potentially harm people in the area. Contamination resulted from waste handling practices at the site. Contaminants of concern include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury and zinc.

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Investigation and Cleanup Responsibility / Oversight

OXY, USA and OXY’s corporate affiliate Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc., the site’s PRPs, lead site investigation and cleanup activities, with oversight provided by EPA and TDEC.

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Site Cleanup Plan

Site investigations and cleanup activities have focused on the following areas, which EPA refers to as operable units, or OUs. These OUs include OU-1: North Potato Creek; OU-2: North Potato Creek short-term cleanup activities; OU-3: Davis Mill Creek removal activities; OU-4: Davis Mill Creek; and OU-5: Ocoee River.

In 2001, TDEC issued a Commissioners Order for OU-1. The plan included the following activities:

Cleanup activities for OU-2 included:

Cleanup activities for OU-3 included:

In September 2011, EPA issued a cleanup plan (a Record of Decision, or ROD) for OU-5. The cleanup plan addresses three parts of the river: the Copper Basin Reach, extending from the town of Copperhill to the slack water of the Ocoee No. 3 Reservoir, the Ocoee No. 3 Reservoir, and the Parksville Reservoir. The plan included the following activities:

Summaries of site cleanup approaches are also available online in key site cleanup documents, including the ROD.

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Cleanup Progress

Since 1991, the water treatment plants in the Copper Basin have treated more than 25 billion gallons of water, removed 21 million pounds of metals and neutralized 41 million pounds of acid from the creeks and mines. 

Since 2001, the site’s PRPs have restored more than 800 acres of the site. Cleanup activities completed include demolition of buildings, removal of waste, installation of a collection system for water that collects contaminants as it passes through contaminated material, and installation of caps over contaminated areas.

The PRPs have also revegetated a 300-acre tailings pond with native grasses and planted over 100,000 trees to reduce erosion.

In 2002, the PRPs began operating the Cantrell Flats Wastewater Treatment Plant to address contamination in Davis Mill Creek, underground mine waters and stormwater. From 2002 until 2010, the plant has removed 19 million pounds of metals and neutralized 41 million pounds of acid from Davis Mill Creek.

In 2003, the PRPs completed investigations and began cleanup activities for OU-4. The PRPs also prepared a future use plan for an area of the Lower North Potato Creek watershed for future use as an interpretative recreational trail system. The system will connect to Copperhill and Ducktown and eventually to the Ocoee River system of trails.

In 2005, the PRPs completed construction of the wastewater treatment plant to address contaminated water in North Potato Creek and the South Mine Pit.

The PRPs removed contaminated soil and equipment as well as 315,848 cubic yards of non-hazardous acid-generating waste materials from the North Potato Creek watershed in 2007 and 2008.

The PRPs installed the Belltown Creek and the Gypsum Pond Creek diversion systems to route clean waters around the most heavily contaminated parts of the watershed, completed modifications to existing dams 1, 2 and 3, and completed construction of dams 4 and 5 in 2011.

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Enforcement Activities

In 2001, EPA and TDEC negotiated legal agreements with the site’s PRPs to investigate and clean up the site. The PRP continues to fund the site’s cleanup and environmental restoration activities.

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Community Involvement

EPA has worked with the community and its state partner to develop a long-term cleanup plan for the site, reflecting the Agency’s commitment to safe, healthy communities and environmental protection. Community engagement and public outreach are core components of EPA program activities.

EPA has conducted a range of community involvement activities to solicit community input and to make sure the public remains informed about site activities throughout the cleanup process. Outreach efforts have included partnerships, public notices, informational meetings and newsletters.

The Copper Basin Site Partnership includes representatives from EPA and TDEC. Partnership members keep the community informed and provide opportunities for public input on site investigation and cleanup activities. Partnership members developed a community relations plan, which includes open houses and public meetings. The partnership also publishes a periodic newsletter, The Basin Briefing, for local residents describing ongoing projects and activities in the Copper Basin. If you would like to join the mailing list, please contact EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Stephanie Brown (brown.stephaniey@epa.gov).

In 2011, EPA hosted an open house and public meeting to discuss the proposed cleanup plan for OU-5. EPA also regularly participates in Copper Basin High School’s “Environmental Day.” EPA awarded a Technical Assistance Plan (TAP) grant to the community, providing $100,000 to support community involvement at the site. The Ducktown Museum Board administers the grant funding. The site’s PRPs provide an annual community bus tour of completed and ongoing site activities and an annual college scholarship to a graduating senior at Copper Basin High School. The PRPs provide extensive project information and photos on their website. Exit EPA Disclaimer

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Future Work

EPA anticipates issuing a surface water cleanup plan (a ROD) for Davis Mill Creek in 2012.

The site’s PRPs plan to reuse an area of the Lower North Potato Creek watershed for an interpretative recreational trail system. The system will connect to Copperhill and Ducktown and eventually to the Ocoee River system of trails.

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Additional Information

EPA keeps additional site documents and information in a site information repository at the location below. EPA also posts site documents, when available, on EPA’s CERCLIS Site Profile page. For documents not available on the website, please contact the Region 4 Freedom of Information Office.

Site Repository

Ducktown Chamber of Commerce
134 Main Street
Ducktown, TN 37326

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