An environmental disaster unfolding in Tennessee is a stark reminder of
the prices we pay for reliance on coal-based power in the U.S.
Early Monday morning a retaining wall collapsed at the Tennesse
Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston coal-fired power plant near
Knoxville, Tennessee, releasing 2.6 million cubic yards of toxic fly
ash across hundreds of acres--damaging 11 homes and ultimately
endangering the Tennessee River watershed.
Pictures from the scene show a house buried up to its first-story windows in dark sludge.
Bulldozers, dump trucks, and backhoes have been brought to the site to
begin cleaning up the fly ash, which is roughly six feet deep and
contains mercury, lead and arsenic.
The Knoxville Sentinel News reported that from above
it's obvious that the Emory River is being dirtied by the spill. The
Emory leads to the Clinch, which flows into the Tennessee.
Workers reportedly are testing water sampled from the rivers. Other
reports state that dead fish have already begun washing up on the
banks, but the danger is not limited to aquatic life.
A December report in Scientific American stated that "fly ash emitted by a power plant-a by-product from burning coal
for electricity-carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more
radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of
(Link to that report below.) As airborne polution, the radiation poses
a slim risk to human health according to the article, However in a
concentrated spill the threat to water sources becomes more serious.
Clean up is expected to take several weeks, by which time ground water and surface water could be seriously contaminated.
Wendy Redal, at the University of Colorado's Center for Environmental
Journalism, said the spill is "nearly 50 times bigger than the Exxon
Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989."
"This holiday disaster shows that there really isn't such a
thing as a clean coal plant," said Chandra Taylor, staff attorney for
the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"The United States Environmental Protection Agency should
immediately establish national safeguards for the disposal of coal
wastes and enforceable regulations," said Taylor. "At a minimum, these
safeguards should include siting restrictions, structural requirements
and long-term financial assurance to clean up any resulting pollution."
Please share your comments.
*Editor's note: the sentence marked with an asterisk has been
changed, and the sentence following the asterisk has been added. The Scientific American article was changed on 12/30/08 after the publication of this story. The original sentence read "A report last December in Scientific American stated that several studies show coal fly ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste."