Environmentalists discuss TVA ash spill pollutants

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 5:47 PM

The Tennessee Valley Authority's huge ash spill boosted waterway pollutants at its Kingston Fossil Plant to 2.66 million pounds in 2008, more than the total water pollution output of the power industry nationwide the previous year.

The plant's discharges of metals-laden waste were also nearly 45 times higher than the 59,950 pounds it discharged into waterways in 2007.

From a report released ahead of congressional hearings this week on the utility's cleanup in Tennessee, an environmental group, the Environmental Integrity Project, said the coal-fired plant dumped about 140,000 pounds of arsenic, a known carcinogen, into the Emory River in 2008, more than twice the amount of arsenic discharged elsewhere in the U.S. by power plants in 2007.

No one was injured in the spill of about 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash from a Dec. 22 breach of an earthen dike at the Kingston plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville, but much of the metals-laden waste swept into the river, causing extensive damage to nearby homes and raising health concerns.

Water sampling since the spill shows the river meets water quality standards but Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said Tuesday much of the spilled heavy metals are likely in the river sediment.

TVA spokesman John Moulton said in an e-mail the utility and government agencies "have continuously and rigorously monitored the air and water in the spill area to ensure compliance with government health and safety standards."

A study from Duke University researchers has suggested that exposure to dust and river sediment from the Kingston ash could pose health risks to local communities and wildlife.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Web site shows its officials continue to monitor the cleanup as well as the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee rivers. The department has said the spill disrupted people's lives, impaired water quality and destroyed aquatic life. It also says all samples to date indicate municipal water supplies are safe.

The TVA report shows the Kingston plant discharged 2.66 million pounds of arsenic, lead, mercury and other pollutants into the river in 2008, compared to 2.04 million pounds of waterway discharge from all of the nation's 531 U.S. power plants the previous year.

TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore is scheduled to address a House subcommittee about the cleanup Wednesday. Alabama Environmental Council director Michael Churchman is also expected to speak. Churchman has concerns about the disposal of the ash that TVA is sending by train to a landfill in a poor west Alabama community.

Churchman said the nation's largest public utility is being too hasty in transporting the coal ash at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency has said it will propose disposal rules by the end of the year. Some environmentalists want the ash treated as hazardous waste.

"I think there are still too many questions and too many unknown factors to be pursuing this action the way all these agencies seem to be going," Churchman said Monday before traveling to Washington, D.C. "There are numerous people in Perry County who have questions. It just seems like they continue to push forward as fast as possible."

Some officials say the Alabama community needs revenue from fees on the ash shipments that at times have exceeded more than 100 rail cars a day.

Jim Berard, a spokesman for the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the subcommittee hearing Wednesday is to find out what happened since the spill and "determine what can be done to keep such a man-made disaster from happening again."

TVA owns nearly 3,000 acres of ash ponds at its other coal plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, four of which are rated as 'high hazard' by EPA. Schaeffer said that until the EPA takes regulatory action "there are no federal rules setting standards for the safe disposal of ash" or limiting the waterway discharge of pollutants it contains.

The utility expects to get the ash out of the Emory River by spring 2010 and to have the 2.4 million cubic yards that spilled on site collected two years or so later.

More than a dozen related lawsuits have been filed against Knoxville-based TVA, which serves nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

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TVA: http://www.tva.gov

Environmental Integrity Project: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org