Mercury Still a Problem 66 Years Later on the South Fork

mercury-southforkLast month, the DuPont Company announced its plan to stop mercury from contaminating the South River, which is one of the leading tributaries for the South Fork of the Shenandoah.

For more than 20 years, DuPont leaked mercury from the textile plant into the South River, eventually ending up in the Shenandoah River. DuPont stopped leaking mercury in 1950. Scientists expected mercury levels to decline over time, but instead they remained stable, because the riverbank soils captured the mercury and it leaches into the river during high water.

DuPont plans to remediate and restore the riverbanks starting in Constitution Park down in Waynesboro, Virginia.

While we acknowledge DuPont’s commitment to the community, and agreeing to stabilize the riverbank by employing a impermeable barrier and covering that with additional clay, soil and native plants, it has been 66 years – that’s right – 66 years since the active leaking stopped.

This is not a day for ribbon cutting and balloons; this is a day a long-time in coming.

The South River Science Team was established in 2001 and began conducting studies to understand how mercury enters the South River and why mercury in South River and South Fork Shenandoah River fish continue to remain elevated some 60 years after it was used at the former DuPont facility in Waynesboro, Virginia.

Mercury is a neurotoxin and it is not to be trifled with. Fish consumption advisories have been in place on the South River and South Fork Shenandoah River since the mid-1970s.

No fish other than trout should be eaten from the South River. Stocked trout have been tested and are safe to eat. No more than two meals – ½ pound each or the size of your hand – of fish per month should be eaten from the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children should not eat fish from these waters.

Think about it. 66 years have passed, and we are still dealing with a serious environmental and public health problem at the very headwaters of the Shenandoah River.

Additional info & resources:

Interactive map of the South River Science Team showing the fish consumption advisories:

Purpose and roles of the SRST:

SRST Mercury Fact Sheet:

SRST newsletter going into great detail as to how they are going to perform the remediation: