Updated below ( 12/24/2008 )

Here are just some of the reports coming out of Harriman, Tennessee:

“Millions of yards of ashy sludge broke through a dike at the TVA’s (Tennessee Valley Authority) Kingston coal-fired plant, covering hundreds of acres, knocking one home off its foundation, and putting environmentalists on edge about toxic chemicals that might be seeping into the ground and flowing downriver.  One neighborhing family said the disaster was no surprise because they have watched the 1960’s era ash pond’s mini-blowouts off-and-on for years.”  [The Tennesseean, here]

Jim Bruggers at the Louisville-Courier Journal reminds us of the October 2000 coal-slurry spill in Martin County, Kentucky which involved 300 millions gallons, and “now widely called the worst environmental disaster in southeastern United States history. Much of the national media paid little attention, though, because, it seems, it was located in Appalachia.”  He adds:

“Now, for some scale: This [Tennessee disaster] equates to 525 million gallons of ash sludge, according to the convertworld.com website.   The Exxon Valdez spill of 20 years ago…was about 11 million gallons of crude.”

Anne Paine and Colby Sledge writing for The Tennesseean report:

“About 2.6 million cubic yards of slurry—enough to fill 798 Olympic size swimming pools—rolled out of the pond Monday, according to the U.S. EPA.  …The ash slide, which began just before 1:00 am, covered as many as 400 acres as deep as 6 feet.”

“Neighbors Don and Jil Smith, who have lived near the pond for eight years, said that nearly every year TVA has cleaned up what they termed ‘baby blowouts.’  Ashen liquid similar to that seen on a much larger scale in Monday’s disaster came form the dike, they said. ‘It would start gushing this gray ooze…  They’d work on it for weeks and weeks.  They can say this is a one-time thing, but I don’t think people are going to believe them.'”

A 333-page report prepared for the U.S. EPA in 2007 attempt to estimate the human health and ecological effects of coal ash.  A review of the report by EarthJustice noted:

“…coal ash disposal sites release toxic chemicals and metals such as arsenic, lead, boron, selenium, cadmium, thallium, and other pollutants at levels that pose risks to human health and the environment.  [We and other national and local environmental and public health organizations have long called for regulations that protect against the toxic ash produced by coal-fired power plants.  Instead, a common industry practice is to mix the pollutant-laden ash with water and dump the toxic brew into unlined or inadequately lined ponds, allowing pollutants to poison groundwater supplies.”  (See EarthJustice news release: “Coal Ash Pollution Contaminants Ground Water” )

A June 10, 2008 hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Committee on Natural Resources included testimony from Professor Thomas Burke of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, who said:

Management of coal combustion waste is a national issue that affects communities around the country where disposal sites are located.  Not far from here in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, coal combustion waste has been disposed of in a sand and gravel pit.  The country health department has sampled the drinking water wells of nearby residents finding concentrations of aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, maganese, and thallium at levels above primary and secondary drinking water standards in some wells.  It appears that coal waste buried in the former sand and gravel pit is leaching into groundwater.

In contrast, the trade association representing coal combustion waste products —Yep! they have their own trade association—said that the Maryland example offered by Prof. Burkes was an isolated case.  I doubt it, but David Goss, Executive Director of the American Coal Ash Association reminds us that we (users of coal) generate this waste, and lots of it.  In his testimony at the same hearing he said:

“Annually, more than 125 million tons of coal-combustion products (CCP) are produced and more than 54 million tons (or 43%) are used beneficially.  These beneficial uses include: raw feedstock for portland cement production, as mineral filler in asphalt, as aggregate in road construction, for soil modification and stabilization, for wallboard panel products, in agriculture, in coal mine reclamation and many other commonly accepted uses.”

Well people, if we continue to use coal for 50% of our electricity generation, we better find something to do with the waste.  Keeping it in the circa 1960’s sludge impoundments, like the one that rupture in Harriman, TN, is not a wise idea and not sustainable.

 A post at Scholars and Rouges called “‘Clean’ coal ash flood may make new Superfund site” provides additional links to information on this environmental disaster in Tennessee.

Updated 12/24/2008:  Anne Paine and Colby Sledge with the Tennesseean continue to follow the story, reporting that officials from U.S. EPA and TVA are collecting samples of the coal-ash mess that covers up to 400 acres.   Local fisherman Jody Miles says:

“‘It doesn’t look healthy to me,’ examing a thin layer clouding the top of his favorite fishing spot on the Clinch River. ‘Do you reckon they can bring all this life back that’s going to die from all this mess?'”

Comments

  1. #1 Liz
    December 23, 2008

    Horrible – but, as local residents pointed out to The Tennessean, not unforeseeable.

    The American News Project and the Washington Independent did an investigation into coal-ash dumping in Pennsylvania earlier this year, and reported on the health concerns of residents there.

  2. #2 colon
    December 23, 2008

    “Horrible – but, as local residents pointed out to The Tennessean, not unforeseeable.”

    i agree with you liz

  3. #3 BrettB
    December 24, 2008

    Somewhat related to Liz’s post I grew up in Tamaqua (was born in Coaldale hospital which at the time I believe was called Miners Memorial Hospitol)- a local lawyer had lead an initiative called “The Army For a Clean Environment” and even grabbed the domain name(great domain right- I don’t know why he let it die) to stop the dumping of river dredge and fly ash into the pits that the coal operators are legally required to fill in and eventually created some incredibly legislation at the local level(I’m not sure where the corporations are at challenging it if anyone out there know I’d love to know)

    Either way, the citizens of the town are strong conservatives who love the coal companies(if it wasn’t for them I truely wouldn’t be alive, but doesn’t mean I love them with my life) but the amount of grassroots activism from citizens against it was just incredible- hopefully this situation in Tennessee creates the same wave, although it’s not exactly the same issue it’s similar materials(ours had alot of arguments about proper capping).

    Just throwing that out there as proof of grassroots activism and online media working, and we have ALOT nicer tools in 2008 than they had in 2006. Hell, Tamaqua even has DSL NOW!;)

  4. #4 Thomas Jefferson
    January 9, 2009

    There’s gotta be something we can do with that stuff … before it accumulates into a disaster waiting for a bad time to happen.

    I mean… everything that is in the coal ash was originally in the coal in the ground… just not so concentrated, right?

    So we should be able to blend it with concrete, or something?

  5. #5 charles
    February 4, 2009

    Ones with toxins can get IV Chelation to rid body of it. Most AMA doctors won’t do this or recommend it. It has been around since leaded paint used in 1934. I know several that used it to get rid of fats in veins. A friend had already had bypasses and when VA said they were clogged he said no more. Then he found out about this and a doctor that would do it within a rocks throw of VA. So he went and the dr. said you go into this huge room where people had IV’s in arm reading or watching TV. The doctor told him to ask them their occupation. He said he ask about 14 and 7 were doctors so he went to doctors office and waited. When Doctor came in he said when do I start. He is 70 and gets around like 35.. When he first told me what he was going to try I was thinking yes sure if you can make it home and the trips. I know several that has had this for different things. He also said bypass surgery was well over $100,000 and this was about $14,000. He also said dr. told him Insurance would not cover at first but as soon as we can show a good gain which will be about $5-6 thousand doctor would fill out papers and they would refund and pay from there on and they did.

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