First in-depth health report near NFS nuclear plant finds dramatic rise in Unicoi County death rate

Published 9:43 am Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Prior to the late 1990s, Unicoi County death rates were about equal to the U.S. But by the most recent period available (2019-2020), the county rate exceeded the national rate by the largest proportion in the past half-century, specifically:
– 44% higher for all-cause mortality
– 61% higher for premature mortality (age 0-74)
– 39% higher for all-cancer mortality
The report states that the release of radioactive chemicals into the environment Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) plant may play a large role in the local health decline. “No other risk factor, such as access to health care, personal health practices, or poverty appears to have changed much,” says report author Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
“As an Erwin native, I am happy to join with Trudy Wallack and Linda Modica as a contributor to important information regarding the health of the people in my hometown and the surrounding areas,” says Barbara O’Neal, co-founder of Erwin Citizens Awareness Network (ECAN), which commissioned the study.
The NFS plant is situated in Erwin, in Unicoi County. Since its 1959 startup, the plant has generated enriched uranium fuels for naval reactors and nuclear power plants. NFS releases a portion of this uranium and other radioactive elements into local air and water.
Prior to this report, no in-depth attempt has been made to analyze health status near NFS. The only national study of cancer near U.S. nuclear plants was conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 1990; that study did not include NFS.
The report also identified a growing county-national gap in death rates for infants and children. In the most recent period analyzed, the death rate for Unicoi County children exceeded the national rate by nearly 40%.
ECAN co-founder Trudy Wallack, believes that “as a resident of Greeneville, the protection and safety of the Nolichucky River stands paramount to my community and others. This river serves as the key source for our drinking water as well as family recreation and water sports. It is my hope that my contribution to this study will provide critical information regarding health…to all those who care and are asking questions.”
The report can be found on the Radiation and Public Health Project website, at

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox