As previously reported, our firm filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of property owners damaged by the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee. We are presently working with Gary Davis and Mary Parker, two very good lawyers in Tennessee, on this important litigation.
The December 2008 disaster, which spilled over a billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge across more than 300 acres, is the largest industrial accident in U.S. history. To put the magnitude of the TVA disaster in perspective, the Exxon Valdez accident released just under 11 million gallons – a tiny fraction of the TVA spill. The health and environmental ramifications from the TVA spill are enormous and clean up is slated to cost almost $1 billion and continue for years to come.
The disaster is a result of a dike failure and the cause of that failure is being thoroughly investigated. A TVA-funded study by AECOM found that the sludge ponds were on the verge of failing for some time before the disaster occurred, and while TVA accepts the AECOM findings, independent experts have found faults in the AECOM study. A panel created by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) will review the AECOM report and may consider other independent analyses to help determine the cause of the dike failure. The TDEC panel includes representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, TVA’s Inspector General’s Office plans to release its own report on the cause in the near future.
In the meantime, the lengthy process of cleanup continues with disposal of the dredged ash now affecting more than the Kingston community and the surrounding area; other communities soon will bear the costs of TVA’s mistakes. EPA approved TVA’s plan to haul the ash dredged from the Emory River to one of the poorest communities in America. As soon as this month, TVA may begin transporting 3 million cubic yards of sludge by rail to a landfill in Perry County, Alabama. TVA also is reviewing the feasibility of ash disposal in a number of Tennessee landfills. Coal ash disposal is an issue that affects communities across the country.
In an effort to prevent similar catastrophes, the EPA has identified 44 high risk coal ash ponds throughout the U.S. The location of the 44 sites in relation to population density helped determine which sites pose a high risk to surrounding areas and current dike conditions were not a part of this initial report. The sites are spread across ten states, including North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Montana. To date, the EPA has visited about half of the 44 sites and plans to report on those sites soon. Meanwhile, EPA on-site inspections are continuing in addition to reviews of state inspection reports at some of the sites.
Other EPA efforts related to coal ash disposal include increased attention to how these sites are regulated. Even though it is well documented that coal ash contains hazardous constituents, coal ash currently is not classified as hazardous waste. Instead, it is regulated in the same way as household solid waste. As a result of the spill EPA vowed to propose new regulations for coal ash storage by the end of 2009.
These new regulations aim to help prevent disasters like the one in Kingston, but the residents of Kingston are faced with the effects of that disaster now. Residents in the area report numerous health issues resulting from the spill, including respiratory and stress-related illnesses, and the hazardous components of coal ash pose risks for long-term health effects as well. It is well documented that coal ash contains such hazardous elements as lead, mercury, arsenic, barium, and chromium.
These elements contribute to increased risk of cancer, liver damage and neurological problems among a host of other issues. TVA recently contracted with Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) to conduct medical monitoring in the Kingston community. According to TVA’s proposal, ORAU will establish criteria to allow qualifying residents access to medical monitoring. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that this monitoring is adequate and that the qualifying criteria allow all affected residents access to proper medical monitoring and treatment.
Our firm, along with lawyers from the other firms involved in this litigation, is working on behalf of individuals and a class of clients in this lawsuit to bring about a complete clean-up of the area; ensure that our clients are fully compensated for the damage to their property (including their property values); and obtain long-term medical monitoring relief for area residents who have been exposed to the toxic contaminants in TVA’s coal ash sludge.
While still in its infancy, quite a bit of work has been accomplished in this litigation. Corporate Representative depositions have commenced, and lawyers from our firm are assisting in the various discovery issues that a case of this magnitude involves. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Rhon Jones or David Byrne in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or David.Byrne@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Knoxville News Sentinel and Associated Press
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