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Ore Knob Mine

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Photograph of Ore Knob Mine Site.

Additional Site Photos

Additional Resources
Site Summary Profile
EPA ID: NCN000409895
Location: Jefferson, Ashe County NC
Lat/Long: 36.402, -81.328
Congressional District: 05
NPL Status: Proposed: 04/09/09; Final: 09/23/09
Affected Media: Surface Water, Ground Water, Sediment, Soil
Cleanup Status: Removal Ongoing, site investigation underway
Human Exposure Under Control: EPA is determing whether human exposure is under control
Groundwater Migration Under Control: Insufficient information
Sitewide Ready for Anticipated Use: No
Site Reuse/Redevelopment: Undetermined
Site Manager: Loften Carr (carr.loften@epa.gov)


Current Site Status

The Ore Knob Mine site includes areas affected by periodic copper mining from the 1850s until 1962. EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2009 because of contaminated surface water, ground water, sediment and soil resulting from mining operations. EPA and the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NCDENR) have investigated site conditions and taken steps to clean up the site in order to protect people and the environment from contamination.

EPA has attempted to identify all affected drinking water wells and provide bottled water or well treatment systems where necessary. EPA has also undertaken an emergency response action to stabilize a tailings impoundment dam and prevent a catastrophic release of tailings into nearby streams and rivers. EPA is currently conducting an investigation to determine the feasibility of providing an alternate water source to people affected by ground water contamination from the site. EPA is also conducting an investigation to assess other affected parts of the site, including soils, surface water and sediment for long-term site cleanup options.

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Site Location and Background

The site is located in Ashe County, North Carolina, approximately 12 miles south of the Virginia state line, 45 miles southeast of Bristol, Tennessee, and eight miles east of Jefferson, North Carolina. The area hosted intermittent mining of copper ore from the 1850s through 1962, with most mining occurring from 1873 to 1883 and from 1957 to 1962. The site includes three principal areas and several downstream areas. 

The 15-acre 1950s Mine and Mill Area is located northwest of the intersection of Ore Knob Road and Little Peak Creek Road, just north of Highway 88. This area contains derelict ore bins, concrete mill foundations, a transformer building, other ruins, a small, active sawmill 2 acres with about 10,000 cubic yards of tailings – now mostly covered with stumps – and a 2-acre former pond where process water was stored.

The 19th Century Operations Area and the Main Tailings Impoundment Area are located across Little Peak Creek Road, at the end of Ore Knob Mine Road. The Main Tailings Impoundment Area is located about 0.3 miles northeast of the 19th Century Operations Area.

The 19th Century Operations Area includes a series of barren and nearly barren stretches of land (totaling about 5 acres) near the top of Ore Knob. This land contains waste rock dumps from at least 11 mineshafts as well as former ore smelting locations.

The Main Tailings Impoundment Area contains an estimated 720,000 cubic yards of tailings, containing high levels of metals, including copper, zinc, iron, arsenic and mercury. Tailings are the waste material left over after mining operations have extracted minerals from ore mined at the site. The tailings can be a source of acid mine drainage, which can damage streams, rivers and other water bodies. Erosion has severely weakened the dam.

In 2008, EPA began emergency response actions at the site to stabilize the Main Tailings Impoundment Area dam and prevent a catastrophic release of tailings into downstream waters. In 2009, EPA listed the site on the NPL.

View site location map.

View map of historic features in the 19th Century Operations and Former Mill Site Areas.

View map of Mine Tailings Impoundment Area features.

Threats and Contaminants

Site investigations have identified contamination in surface water, ground water, sediment and soil that could potentially harm people in the area. Contamination resulted from historic mining practices. Acid mine drainage and metals from prior site mining operations have contaminated ground water and surface water. Impacted streams and rivers include:

Contaminated ground water is the primary threat to public health. Other site contamination primarily poses a threat to the environment. EPA initiated an emergency response action in April 2010 to provide bottled drinking water to households with contaminated or potentially contaminated private drinking water wells. EPA later provided some households with whole-house well treatment systems. EPA collected private drinking water well samples six times in 2010 and 2011. EPA will continue collecting samples from private drinking water wells as necessary to assess whether site contamination might be affecting additional wells. EPA also samples whole-house well treatment systems annually to make sure the treatment systems are working properly.

EPA is currently conducting an investigation, referred to as an engineering evaluation/cost analysis, to help determine the feasibility of providing an alternate water source to people affected by ground water contamination from the site.

EPA is conducting another investigation, referred to as a remedial investigation/feasibility study, to assess other affected parts of the site, including soils, surface water and sediment for long-term site cleanup options.

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Investigation and Cleanup Responsibility / Oversight

EPA leads site investigation and cleanup activities in cooperation with NCDENR.

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Site Cleanup Plan

After completing the site’s remedial investigation/feasibility study, EPA will issue a proposed cleanup plan to address any long-term contamination and related risks to people and the environment. After receiving input from NCDENR and the community, EPA will issue the final cleanup plan (a Record of Decision, or ROD). After issuing the plan, EPA will begin preparations to carry out the approved long-term cleanup activities.

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Cleanup Progress

Beginning in 2008, EPA undertook an emergency response removal action to stabilize the Main Tailings Impoundment Area dam and prevent a catastrophic release of tailings into downstream waters. Specific actions included:

EPA OSC.net has more details about EPA’s short-term cleanup activities.

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Enforcement Activities

EPA has identified several potentially responsible parties (PRPs) associated with the site, and is engaged in ongoing enforcement activities. On November 9, 2010, EPA published notice of a proposed Settlement Agreement with one site PRP, The Marsh Foundation, Inc., and invited public comment.

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Community Involvement

EPA is working 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 is conducting 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 include public notices, public meetings and fact sheets.

EPA held public meetings in April and November 2010, August 2011, and March 2012 to address public concerns regarding ground water contamination and update the community regarding site activities.

EPA is also coordinating with the North Carolina Division of Public Health to provide the community with additional resources regarding contaminated private drinking water wells. Recently, the Division completed a public health assessment (PDF) (150 pp, 10MB, About PDF) for the site.

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Future Work

EPA is continuing work on the site’s engineering evaluation/cost analysis and remedial investigation/feasibility study.

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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

Ashe County Library
148 Library Drive
West Jefferson, North Carolina 28694

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