Just How Toxic Was That TVA Coal Ash Disaster?

Guest Blog | December 10, 2009 | Coal, Energy Policy

coalashAs we approach the 1 year anniversary of the unprecedented Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash disaster in Kingston, TN, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) brings us new ground breaking data showing just how shockingly toxic that sludge really was.

The EIP report issued on Dec. 8, 2009 featured…

New data highlighted in public for the first time today paint an even grimmer picture of the late December 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee.  Reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) show that the TVA’s Kingston coal plant dumped into the Emory River in 2008 an estimated 140,000 pounds of arsenic contained in coal ash — more than twice the reported amount of the toxin discharged into U.S. waterways from all U.S. power plants in 2007.

We applaud the work of EIP and other groups for this excellent report.  It is critical for public and environmental health that we know the true toxicity of this terrible disaster.  TVA officials have been quoted in response to the dangers of this disaster with such brush offs as “this water is safe enough to swim in.”  And in response to this new EIP report, it appears that TVA officials are still denying the serious risks of this ash by claiming that heavy metals are not released when they dredge the soil.  This contention simply doesn’t make sense.  Obviously if TVA stirs up the toxic mud while they are dredging, the toxics are going to move downstream and dissolve more readily — just like sugar does when you stir your iced tea.kingston_coalashspill

Charles H. Norris, P.G., Geo-Hydro, Inc., Denver, stated in the EIP press release:

“It is impossible to quantify the amount of toxic metals released from Kingston’s toxic coal ash into the Emory River before settling to the bottom of the river, and how much more may be released over time…  As the Emory River is dredged to help reduce the volume of toxic ash in the river, toxic metals like arsenic may leach into the water from any remaining ash on the river bottom over time, carrying contaminants further downstream, e.g., into the Clinch or Tennessee Rivers.”

coalash_treesAnd the EIP report clearly identifies:

Arsenic and other toxic metals were contained in the estimated one billion gallons of coal ash that spilled when the Kingston impoundment dikes burst on December 22, 2008. These toxic pollutants are hazardous to the health of humans, fish and other aquatic life.

The EIP analysis of the new TVA data finds a total of 2.66 million pounds of 10 toxic pollutants – arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, vanadium and zinc.

Currently, there are no federal rules setting standards for the safe disposal of ash or limiting the discharge of toxic leachate into our waterways. EPA has announced that it will propose regulations for disposal of coal ash by the end of 2009.

Read the EIP press release and download the report.

The media coverage of this important new report is impressive:house_kingston_coalash

1. Washington Business Journal
2. Knoxville News Sentinel
4. Forbes
5. Chattanooga Times Free Press
6. Yahoo News
7. US Politics Today
8. Nashville Business Journal
9. Listen to the radio segment on the report release

Read our previous blogs on the TVA coal ash disaster here:

June 26, 2009  TVA Ash Spill Root Cause Analysis Released

June 12, 2009  Coal is a Dirty Business: PBS Special on Coal in Ga. In this PBS special, Anda Ray, TVA’s main PR spokesperson was asked if she would swim in the river now and Ray told Stahl, “Yes, I would.”  She later retracted her response after remembering there was an advisory against it.  “We’ve advised people not to swim in the river where there’s ash.”

June 12, 2009  Sen. Boxer: Public should be notified about high hazard coal ash sites

April 20, 2009  TVA struggling to meet court-ordered clean ups

December 22, 2008 SACE Press Updates on Coal Ash Disaster

Also, review the Direct Testimony from the TVA Office of the Inspector General before the House of Representatives about the failings of the TVA before the spill occurred and in response to clean up.

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