Source: The Oak Ridger | Karolyn Krause | July , 2018

Image result for Revis led ground-breaking discoveries about mercury contamination in Oak Ridge

U.S. Congressman Zach Wamp and Dr. Nat Revis after the 2010 ETEC Annual Meeting.

Nathaniel William Revis lived in my neighborhood. I have walked past his house almost daily for many years. I rarely saw him and had only two chances to talk with him. The last time I saw him was a year ago; he had walked with a cane to his mailbox. We chatted briefly.

Years ago he was married to a stockbroker. I played tennis with her one time. In the past couple of weeks, I noticed he hadn’t hired anyone to cut his grass or blow branches off his roof or clean out the plants growing in his gutter. I wondered if Nat was away or very ill. Then my husband saw a rescue vehicle and a police car in Nat’s driveway. I learned from The Oak Ridger that Nat had died earlier this month.

I have long known a little bit about Nat’s early contributions to the city. He had been a successful entrepreneur in Oak Ridge, breaking ground for people of color in the city. A New Jersey native who had a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, Nat had worked as a toxic metal researcher in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biology Division.

Then he left to start the Oak Ridge Research Institute (ORRI). He later became president of and scientist with Scientific & Technical Resources Inc., and president of Oak Ridge Realty Holdings Inc.

On May 17, 1983, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Operations announced it had “lost” or could not account for 2.4 million pounds of mercury as a result of lithium production for the nation’s thermonuclear weapons program. Revis testified at the July 1983 congressional field hearing held in Oak Ridge concerning the revealed mercury discharges to the local environment.

As owner and president of ORRI, Revis made an unsolicited proposal to DOE’s Oak Ridge Operations. He proposed feeding samples of mercury-contaminated creek sediments and floodplain soil to test animals and studying the effects. ORRI received funding from DOE’s Oak Ridge Interagency Task Force, led by David McKinney of the Tennessee Department of Health and Environment, to conduct such a study.

In late 1983 at ORRI, multiple doses of soil samples from the banks of New Hope Pond and East Fork Poplar Creek were administered to mice, rats and pigeons. No toxic effects were found in that study. ORRI scientists inferred that the soil contained a mercury compound that was not dissolved in water and not readily absorbed through the intestinal tracts of these test species.

In 1985, Revis and his associates initiated a 20-month study in which more than 1,000 male and female mice were given food containing 5 percent floodplain soil. Although some mercury was found in the brains, kidneys and livers of the mice, no significant damage was observed. These results suggested that the mercury was largely in the form of an insoluble compound, such as mercuric sulfide.

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