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Tennessee Coal Ash Spill

  • The spill occurred Dec. 22, 2008
  • It covered 300 acres
  • The site was the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant in eastern Tennesee
  • The ash on the site contains arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium and and other hazardous substances, according to the EPA
  • EPA updates, reports and downloads about the TVA coal ash spill



60 Minutes investigation: The coal ash that inundated Kingston, Tennessee

If coal ash is safe to spread under a golf course or be used in carpets, why are the residents a Tenn. town being told to stay out of a river where the material was spilled? Lesley Stahl reports. We burn so much coal in this country for electricity that every year that process generates 130 million tons of waste. Most of it is coal ash. Environmental scientists tell us that the concentrations of mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxic metals are considerably higher in coal ash than in ordinary soil. It's often dumped into wet ponds - there are nearly 500 of them across the country - and in those cases the ash could pose health risks to the nearby communities. While the government has never formally labeled coal ash a hazardous waste, it's being treated as such at the Kingston site. CBS_ 10/4/09

Kingston, Tennessee to get $40 million from the TVA for ash spill

The Tennessee Valley Authority will provide $40 million to help restore the image and economy of Kingston, a Tennessee community that suffered a massive coal ash spill from a TVA power plant, officials announced Monday. Some wonder if $40 million will be enough to offset the impact of 5.4 million cubic yards of toxin-laden coal ash spilling Dec. 22, 2008, into the rivers of a community that relies on attracting Rust Belt and Florida retirees to its lakeside homes. The TVA payment to the community is in addition to cleanup costs estimated to total $1 billion. The ash itself should be out of the Emory River by spring 2010. AP/Rocky Mount Telegram_ 9/14/09

EPA releases list of 44 'high hazard' coal ash dumps

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of 44 “high hazard potential” coal ash waste dumps across the country. The “high hazard” rating applied to sites in 10 states where a dam failure would most likely result in a loss of human life, the environmental agency advisory said, but did not assess the structural integrity of the dam or its likelihood of failure. The list, released late on Monday, was compiled as part of the agency’s inventory of coal ash sites after more than a billion gallons of ash broke through a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant west of Knoxville last December. An engineering analysis of the failure, released last week, cited design problems like the height of the ash, among other factors. Coal ash contains toxic materials like lead, arsenic, selenium and thallium, and such sites have been known to contaminate drinking and surface water. New York Times_ 6/30/09

EPA Fact Sheet and list of 44 'high hazard' coal ash waste dumps

EPA won't disclose location of hazardous coal ash sites

The U.S. EPA has identified 44 coal ash waste impoundments across the country that pose a "high hazard" to the people living nearby, but Homeland Security and Army Corps of Engineers officials want the locations kept secret, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said during a Washington press conference. EPA officials have told Boxer, whose committee is investigating the safety of coal ash impoundments, the locations of the sites. But she has been forbidden to reveal the information to anyone other than other senators in affected areas and emergency response officials and representatives of the utilities involved. Boxer can´t even reveal the information to members of her own staff, she said. "We are losing what we cherish in America, the public´s right to know," Boxer said. She said residents of the communities involved have a right to know if a threat exists in their neighborhood. She is asking for further explanation from the Department of Homeland Security. Her committee began investigating coal ash impoundments after more than 1 billion gallons of coal combustion waste covered more than 300 acres near the Tennessee Valley Authority´s Kingston coal-fired power plant in December 2008. The EPA is moving to ensure the public is protected near the other 44 hazardous sites it has identified, Boxer said. Waste & Recycling News_ 6/12/09

EPA to oversee coal ash clean-up at TVA's Kingston plant

The EPA will oversee the coal ash spill clean up at the Kingston power plant in East Tennessee in an agreement signed with TVA, according to an announcement Monday. TVA will reimburse the federal environmental agency for the costs of the oversight, officials said. Until now, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation had primary oversight for the cleanup in consultation with EPA. Their positions have now, through mutual agreement, flip-flopped. The ash on the site contains arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium and and other hazardous substances. The material would have to be disposed of in a way that would protect the environment, including using a landfill, for instance, with a liner, leachate collection system and groundwater monitoring, according to the EPA document. The Tennessean_ 5/11/09

Tennessee coal ash spill may bring added regulation of TVA

The deluge of ash from a coal-fired power plant that buried 300 acres of eastern Tennessee is sparking new state and federal scrutiny of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest U.S. public power company. A Senate panel in Washington has asked TVA’s Chief Executive Officer Tom Kilgore to testify Jan. 8 on whether more regulatory oversight is needed. A House committee chairman says he may seek federal rules for coal-ash storage sites. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has ordered inspections of the TVA’s waste sites and a review of state environmental regulations. The question is whether the TVA may have received “exaggerated deference,” said Bredesen, a Democrat, last week. The accident on Dec. 22 is also testing economic, political and social ties that go back generations in the seven southeastern states served by the Knoxville-based company. Bloomberg_ 1/6/09

Three residential wells cleared, more testing pending near TVA coal ash spill

Three wells near the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant fly-ash spill do not contain contaminants in excess of drinking water standards, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report issued today. Prepared by the Tetra Tech EM Inc. Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team, an EPA contractor, the report also states that water samples taken Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 at the Kingston and Rockwood water treatment plants, as well as one at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, showed pollutants don't exceed standards. A sample taken Dec. 23, one day after the spill, exceeded the standard for thallium. "Based on the analysis of the samples collected by EPA on December 23, 29, and 30, 2008, there appears to be no current impact to public potable water supply in the affected area at this time, said the report. Knoxville News Sentinel_ 1/5/09

Tennessee sludge contains elevated levels of arsenic

The drinking water in the area of last month's coal-sludge spill in eastern Tennessee is safe, but elevated levels of arsenic have been found in the sludge, authorities said. Preliminary results from water samples taken in the spill area show no unsafe levels of toxins, said Leslie Sims, on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency. The testing includes municipal supplies and private wells, he said. However, samples of the fly ash scooped up along roadsides and river banks show elevated levels of arsenic that normally would trigger an EPA response, Sims said. "These are levels that we consider harmful to humans," he said. But the EPA is not responding because the Tennessee Valley Authority is taking action to fix the problem, he added. CNN_ 1/2/09

December, 2008

Some well water near Tennessee coal ash spill may be unsafe

Some water samples near a massive spill of coal ash in eastern Tennessee are showing high levels of arsenic, and state and federal officials on Monday cautioned residents who use private wells or springs to stop drinking the water. Samples taken near the spill slightly exceed drinking water standards for toxic substances, and arsenic in one sample was higher than the maximum level allowed for drinking water, according to a news release from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the power plant where the spill occurred, the Environmental Protection Agency and other officials. Authorities have said the municipal water supply is safe to drink. AP_ 12/29/08

Twice as much ash as originally estimated spilled in Tennessee

A burst dike at a coal-fired power plant in eastern Tennessee spilled twice as much ash as originally estimated, and at least one resident fears the muck coating his neighborhood is endangering the area's drinking water. About 5.4 million cubic yards of coal fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, broke out of a retention pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant, a Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman said Friday. The TVA, the nation's largest utility company, first estimated the amount at about 2.6 million cubic yards after Monday's breach in eastern Tennessee. Despite the increase, TVA's first tests showed no threat to the area's drinking water supply, an official said. Results of water sampling downstream of the plant, including at Kingston Water District intake, indicate that the concentrations of toxic contaminants were below state standards to protect fish and aquatic life, according to a TVA news release Thursday. The plant is along the Emory River, which joins the Clinch River and flows into the main Tennessee River. AP_ 12/26/08

Tennessee coal ash spill revives issue of its hazards

What may be the nation’s largest spill of coal ash lay thick and largely untouched over hundreds of acres of land and waterways Wednesday after a dam broke this week, as officials and environmentalists argued over its potential toxicity. Federal studies have long shown coal ash to contain significant quantities of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium, which can cause cancer and neurological problems. But with no official word on the dangers of the sludge in near the T.V.A. power plant in Kingston, Tennessee, displaced residents spent Christmas Eve worried about their health and their property, and wondering what to do. Even as the Tennessee Valley Authority played down the risks, the spill reignited a debate over whether the federal government should regulate coal ash as a hazardous material. Similar ponds and mounds of ash exist at hundreds of coal plants around the nation. New York Times_ 12/24/08

TVA tests water supplies in Eastern Tennessee after toxic coal sludge spill

A day after a spill sent a vast amount of toxic coal sludge over a wide area in Eastern Tennessee, state environmental officials struggled Tuesday trying to assess the damage in hopes that water supplies were not harmed by heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic. The Tennessee Valley Authority estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of fly ash, a byproduct of coal incineration that contains the heavy metals, broke through an earthen retention wall at a T.V.A. power plant early Monday morning near Kingston, about 40 miles west of Knoxville. It flowed into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people downstream. Video news reports showed dead fish lining the banks of a nearby waterway. Environmentalists said the spill, more than 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, belied the notion of the “clean coal” technology that the industry has spent millions to promote. New York Times_ 12/23/08



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