Watershed – Steve Harris : Jeff Rich

The city of Erwin, in Northeastern Tennessee, is home to a company called Nuclear Fuel Services. The company processes used radioactive materials mostly Uranium and Plutonium from reactors. Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) has a record of accidents and spills over the past 50 years of company operations.

Recent water and soil testing revealed evidence of Uranium and Plutonium pollution up to 50 miles down the Nolichucky River. This project focuses on one resident of Erwin, Steve Harris, and how he has been affected by the NFS pollution of the river and his property.

Steve’s property is along the Nolichucky River and is less than a mile from the NFS plant. He is considered an MEI, or maximally exposed individual. In other words because of his close proximity, he is exposed to the highest dose of radiation from the NFS pollution. Radioactive pollution is completely invisible and detectable only by special instruments. Steve has owned his property for over 40 years. The land was reclaimed from a pit mine operation, and he created a community on the 20-acre property and has hosted numerous festivals and gatherings. Steve had plans on turning the property into an organic farm and artist community.

This series is part of the Watershed Project and seeks to capture what Steve’s land was like before the discovery of the pollution, one man’s Arcadia along the river. The project also shows what his property has become, an empty landscape, devoid of the community that once thrived here.

In June of 2011, three separate law firms from Tennessee, New York and South Carolina filed a lawsuit representing 19 residents of Erwin. The lawsuit is suing for damages, because of personal injury and property damage. Steve was subsequently included in the lawsuit and he continued to live on his land.

On June 10th 2012, Steve Harris passed away.


Text and images © Jeff Rich


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