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Tennessee Valley Authority's Coal Ash Pond Collapse Worse Than First Reported

Sarah's picture

As if a serious financial recession weren't enough, the people of the Appalachians received yet another unwelcome, and un-re-gift-able, "present" early this week when a coal-ash pond collapsed.
Photo by J Miles Carey, Knoxville News-Sentinel

Fifteen houses looked like the one in the photo Monday morning. Imagine that at Christmas.
Now realize that such homes depend on streams and wells for drinking water -- streams and wells now contaminated with the same wet-ash sludge that inundated this one -- and that the damage this 5.2 million (approximately) cu/ft of wet ash slurry will do downhill and downstream hasn't even started being measured yet.

The spill hit the Emory River, adjacent the pond; and three houses were destroyed outright in the first wave of ... industrial hazardous waste (the stuff is laced with lead and thallium, and also contains mercury and arsenic) heading out of containment.

Now, tell me again that Obama's smart, and "clean coal" is a green alternative to foreign oil.

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Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

You beat me to it, Sarah, with the "clean coal" comment. The first thing I said to myself when I heard about this was "so much for 'clean coal'".

Speaking of hearing about this, I didn't see any serious story done on this in the MSM, though, to be fair, I try and watch as little TV news as I can, anymore. In fact, I didn't hear about this until Christmas Day, and guess where I saw the story? Wikipedia. The day I count of Wiki for news is when I know I've been failed by my "free press".

I'm looking forward to hearing about details from tnjen.

pie's picture
Submitted by pie on

proclaiming its possibilities ( thanks to his pandering during the election season) once more, I'm going to scream.

From everything I've read and heard, there is no such thing as "clean coal."

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

CAP report: Where's the (coal) money? --

A major coal industry group has spent an estimated $45 million on an ongoing advertising campaign promoting the clean energy potential of coal, but its members are spending relatively little on the research that would make the technology a viable solution, a report by the Center for American Progress finds.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity’s 48 member companies have only invested $3.5 billion in carbon capture research over the past several years, a fraction of the investment scientists say is needed to meet global warming reduction targets, the study by the progressive think tank finds. The study did not include the profits of eight of the companies, but the center estimates the 48 companies' combined profit reached at least $57 billion last year alone.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

Environmental Spill Disaster Devastates Tennessee; 48 Times the Size of Exxon Valdez --

An environmental disaster of epic proportions has occurred in Tennessee. Monday night, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA's Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

Toxic Sludge Got Into Tributary of Chattanooga Water Supply

Apart from the immediate physical damage, the issue is what toxic substances are in that sludge: Mercury, arsenic, lead, beryllium, cadmium. Though officials said the amounts of these poisons in the sludge could not be determined on Monday, they could (at the mild end) irritate skin or trigger allergies or (longer term) cause cancer or neurological problems.

This toxic sludge got into the Emory River, a tributary of the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers: The water supply for Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. ...

tnjen's picture
Submitted by tnjen on

Thankfully, we're not downstream from this catastrophe and far enough away in the right direction but a lot of population centers are downstream including Chattanooga. Roane Co. (where it happened) is a very poor county and I'm worried that those in the immediate vicinity whose homes are not among the 15 declared uninhabitable will not be able to move. It's also a county that has been struggling with a great deal of local corruption including a corrupt judge.

The real story behind the story is how badly the local media handled this starting out. The first two days, they produced incredible images but we were told that it was basically a harmless mudslide and that it was just water and harmless ash. There was absolutely no sounding of any kind of safety alarm for the people that live there. Everything was downplayed to the point where if you listened to local media, you could easily come to the conclusion that nothing worth worrying about had happened. Once the national media started to pick up the story things got a bit better and the environmental and human safety concerns started to come out. Local media is doing a much better job now but their initial coverage may have cost people dearly.

TVA will likely buy out all the people who were directly impacted immediately and without a fight so that's one good thing. But they are also trying to limit things and I don't trust them or the EPA to do what's right by those who didn't have their homes leveled because they are using W's strict definitions of what is 'toxic' and what is a 'concern.' They're also not being honest about the impact this is going to have on water supplies downstream -- the impact below the site is going to be enormous. When the local media showed dead fish along the riverbanks both TVA and the EPA said they hadn't seen any.

Thank God, the coal train that got caught up in this didn't topple over and add insult to injury. There is a worry about those tracks getting cleared soon though because that plant supplies power to several hundreds of thousands of homes.

Oh and one more thing, Appalachian coal contains levels of different heavy metals and toxins that are much higher than both Anthracite (PA coal) and Western coal. The fly ash that is produced from it can be three to five times more dangerous than it would be from other sources.