December 22, 2009 marked the one-year anniversary of the largest industrial accident in U.S. history. As we have reported, the Tennessee Valley Authority spilled over 1 billion gallons of coal combustion waste onto over 300 acres of land and into the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee Rivers. This disaster brought to the forefront the need for stricter oversight on how the coal-fired power industry handles its waste. Evidence has continued to mount since the spill in favor of regulating coal ash waste and coal combustion wastewater.
In fall of 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report that analyzed the health and environmental impacts of wastewater from coal-fired power plants. The reports states that: an increasing amount of evidence indicates that the characteristics of coal combustion wastewater have the potential to impact human health and the environment. Many of the common pollutants found in coal combustion wastewater such as selenium, mercury, and arsenic are known to cause environmental harm and can potentially represent a human health risk. Pollutants in coal combustion wastewater are of particular concern because they can occur in large quantities and at high concentrations in discharges and leaching to both surface and groundwater.
A report issued in December by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) confirms that the TVA ash spill contained large quantities of pollutants. The EIP report analyzed TVA’s own data submitted to EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and found that the spill released 2.66 million pounds of ten toxic pollutants, including arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, vanadium and zinc. Through its TRI reporting, TVA admitted to releasing over four times more lead and over twice the amount of arsenic than the entire power industry released in 2007. During that year the U.S. power industry reported releases of over 2 million pounds of toxic pollutants into our nation’s waterways. These numbers are astounding and illustrate the strong need for regulations of coal combustion waste and wastewater discharges.
The call to hold TVA accountable for its pollution continues to grow. EIP issued a second report in December entitled, “Outside the Law: Restoring Accountability to the Tennessee Valley Authority.” The report calls on the Obama administration to prosecute TVA for its environmental violations. In addition to the calls from environmental organizations, Congress held another hearing in November to learn more about TVA’s cleanup activities, EPA’s regulatory plans, and the disposal of coal ash in Perry County, Ala. During his testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Sub-Committee on Water Resources and Environment, Acting EPA Region IV Administrator Stanley Meiburg acknowledged that “the longer [the ash] sits there the more opportunity you have for something to happen.” In fact, he cited recent samples taken in the Clinch River that showed elevated arsenic levels.
During the same hearing, Tom Kilgore, who is CEO of TVA, reported that about two-thirds of the ash that spilled has been removed from the Emory River and that TVA is on schedule to complete the river clean-up by spring of 2010 with the remaining cleanup projected to last until 2013, a full five years from the date of the spill.
The Kingston community will continue to be affected by the aftermath of the spill. The class litigation, in which our firm is involved, seeks to hold TVA to its promise of cleaning up the Kingston community completely and making those affected whole again. If you need additional information on this litigation, 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, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Environmental Integrity Project
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