New Report Highlights Add’l Coal Ash Risks in Tenn

George Cavros | February 1, 2011 | Press Releases

Knoxville, Tenn. (February 1, 2011) – A new report out today entitled “EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash ”, highlights the previously unrecognized risk of the cancer-causing toxic chemical, leaking from coal ash sites across the country. The report compiles new research revealing the health risks of hexavalent chromium, the likelihood of leakage, and the presence of the deadly chemical in tap water.

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned groundwater from the toxic chemical. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites, including several in Tennessee. The Tennessee sites with hexavalent chromium contamination are located at TVA’s Johnsonville Fossil Plant in New Johnsonville, the Trans-Ash, Inc. Coal Ash Landfill in Camden, and TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman. The chemical was also discovered at two TVA facilities in Alabama – Colbert Fossil Plant in Tuscumbia and Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson.

Most ash ponds and landfills are unlined at Tennessee’s eight coal-fired power plants, leaving communities near these plants threatened by releases of the cancer-causing chemical into groundwater. In fact, Tennessee ranks 14th in the nation for chromium and chromium compound releases from electric utilities. According to EPA’s latest Toxic Release Inventory data, electric utilities in Tennessee disposed or otherwise released over 260,000 pounds of chromium and chromium compounds in 2009, primarily to unlined landfills and surface impoundments.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, along with Earthjustice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club and others are pushing for federally enforceable safeguards from coal ash as this new information is released. Also, in a signal that the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recognizes the hazards of hexavalent chromium exposure, they have called on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to testify tomorrow on a hearing about the chemical.

Coal ash, the leftover waste from power plants, also contains arsenic lead, cadmium, mercury, selenium and many other chemicals that can cause cancer and damage the nervous system and organs, especially in children. Hexavalent chromium is a highly toxic carcinogen when inhaled and recent studies from the National Toxicology Program indicate that when drinking water is contaminated and consumed, it can also cause cancer.

“The people of Tennessee already experienced one very visible coal ash disaster. This report shows that a subtler but equally perilous disaster could be impacting people all across the State” said Josh Galperin, Policy Analyst and Research Attorney with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Coal ash was under the radar before Kingston and now that people are paying attention, we keep learning of additional risks. We need EPA to act quickly to finalize federally enforceable rules to regulate coal ash as hazardous waste.”

Among the findings of the new report:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that the type of chromium that leaches from coal ash sites is nearly always of the hexavalent chromium variety, which is the much more toxic of the two forms.
  • Both the federal government (Center for Disease Control) and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) agree that hexavalent chromium is dangerous even at very low levels in drinking water;
  • The threat of hexavalent chromium drinking water contamination is present at hundreds of unlined coal ash sites across the country.
  • Power plants dump over 10 million pounds of chromium and chromium compounds into mostly unlined or inadequately lined coal ash landfills, ponds and fill sites each year.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy has known for years about leaking of hexavalent chromium from coal ash.

For a copy of the report contact Josh Galperin at Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. # # # Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a regional nonprofit organization that works in five Southeastern states. SACE is a leader promoting responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities. For more information, go to: