Announcing a Victory for the Holston River!

The Holston Army Ammunitions Plant has been releasing a toxic chemical into the waters of the Holston River for some time. Now, they will be required to clean up the pollution according to a recent consent decree.

Kalani Odum

Guest post by Tennessee Clean Water Network

We are pleased to announce a victory for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers® listing of the Holston River!

The Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), the U.S. Department of Defense, and BAE Systems Ordnance Systems, Inc. have signed a consent decree that will greatly reduce the level of RDX (a highly toxic, explosive chemical) pollution in the Holston River by 2020. The proposed settlement was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on September 28, 2015.

RDX is a toxic explosive compound that was developed during World War II and is only produced at the Army’s Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HSAAP) on the banks of the Holston River in Kingsport, Tennessee. BAE Systems operates the HSAAP under a contract with the Army.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RDX lifetime health advisory limit is 2 µg/L for drinking water. Based on this advisory, the state imposed a strict permit limit for RDX in 2007, but granted the facility five years to comply. The RDX discharge from the HSAAP to the Holston River has routinely exceeded this permit level since the May 2012 compliance deadline.

Prior to the filing of this lawsuit, RDX, a possible human carcinogen, was found in finished drinking water samples taken by the First Utility District of Hawkins County and the samples indicated RDX levels at more than double the EPA’s limit. RDX has been found in the Holston River as far south as Knoxville, more than 100 miles from the HSAAP. The most recent instream samples from the Holston River, taken in April and August 2015, were well below the EPA limit.

As a result of this history of pollution, the Holston River was named as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2015 by American Rivers because the drinking water supply for thousands of East Tennesseans is at risk.

If approved by the Court, this consent decree would prescribe a date certain of July 2020 for the facility to comply with the RDX permit. The families and communities along the Holston have a right to clean, safe drinking water. TCWN is proud to have played a role in prompting this action to bring RDX down to safe levels in the river by 2020.

TCWN will continue to monitor the RDX levels in the discharge and in the Holston River to ensure these levels continue their downward trend. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Army and BAE Systems had previously entered a voluntary agreement with 14 different projects to reduce the levels of RDX. This settlement does not disturb that agreement, but adds a judicially-enforceable deadline. This is great news for the people of East Tennessee who depend on the Holston as their source of drinking water and for recreational users of the Holston River, including Cherokee Lake.

The Holston River flows 274 miles from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the confluence with the French Broad River and becomes the Tennessee River. The Holston River is home to 47 species of fish including smallmouth bass, brown trout, rainbow trout, redline darter, and bigeye chub. The river has played a key role in our nation’s history – it was the site of a 1791 treaty between the United States and Cherokee Indian Nation, and also saw many battles throughout the Civil War.

Please join us in celebrating this wonderful news!


Tennessee Clean Water Network is a non-profit organization that empowers Tennesseans to exercise their right to clean water and healthy communities by fostering civic engagement, building partnerships and advancing and, when necessary, enforcing water policy for a sustainable future.

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