A few hundred yards down a hiking trail on the TVA reservation, and beyond a twisted skeleton of chain link fence that years of falling limbs and curious hikers have rendered little more than a remnant, lies a nearly one-hundred acre tract of land that is at the same time bleakly striking, and sobering.

The portion of the TVA Reservation that skirts the Tennessee River, though largely reclaimed by forest and bramble and crisscrossed by hiking trails, still bears the signs of its past. Everywhere relics of the industries that once fed off the artery of commerce and energy that was the Tennessee River lay overgrown and forgotten. One of these operations was an electric furnace for processing phosphorus ore into elemental phosphorus for use in fertilizers. Begun in 1933, this operation was one of five furnaces operated by TVA, and it continued until 1977 when smelting furnaces were phased out in favor of newer and more efficient methods.

A byproduct of smelting phosphorus ore is large amounts of phosphate slag, a water-insoluble sand like material composed primarily of calcium silicate. During the four decades of operation, over one-and-a-half million tons of phosphate slag was produced, and dumped in a large deposit, known as the Phosphate Slag Entombment Area. This moonscape-like region is sparsely populated by mosses, lichens and brambles. In many areas years of exposure to moisture has hardened the grey powder into a near-concrete like surface.

While not highly toxic, phosphate slag is mildly radioactive, which is the primary concern affecting the environmental impact of the disposal of this substance. According to a 2002 Environmental Impact Report published by TVA, the amount of radiation at the site is approximately 50 microrems per hour. To put it in perspective, if you camped out in this area twenty-four-seven for five days, you would absorb roughly as much radiation as you would during a full-mouth dental xray. Minimal, but not negligible. For this reason, TVA employees are limited to a maximum of five-hundred hours per year of exposure to the site.

This area is included in the proposed Muscle Shoals Reservation Redevelopment project, purposed with reclaiming the land for redevelopment.

(click image to enlarge)