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Another TVA Ash Spill, with another river spill …

January 9th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Amid all the hullaboo about Clean Coal, most focus on the issue of CO2 emissions. In fact, there is a partial truth about sort-of less dirty coal, ever-improving filtering of particulates is creating ever more fly ash. And, that fly ash either needs to be used (concrete, gypsum board, etc) or simply stored indefinitely. A prime storage option: Ash Ponds.

For Christmas, rather than Clean Coal carolers, too many in Tennessee were serenaded with evacuation notices and concerns about drinking water due to the massive Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston ash pond rupture.

Earlier today, another TVA ash pond (Alabama) has reported a “leak” which has already had materials flow into Widows Creek.

From the initial news report

TVA is investigating a leak from a gypsum pond at its Widows Creek coal-burning power plant in northeastern Alabama, a spokesman said at about 10:45 a.m. Central Time.

The leak, discovered before 6 a.m. has been stopped, according to John Moulton, with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Now, this site stores more ash than Kingston. According to TVA reporting, which has not proved accurate in multiple instances, this leak is stopped. Let’s hope that Mr Moulton has his facts right.

“Some materials flowed into Widows Creek, although most of the leakage remained in the settling pond,” he said

Really wonder what “some” means, don’t you?

The Widows Creek Fossil Plant is located on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River. It has eight coal-fired units and was completed in 1965. The plant consumes about 10,000 tons of coal a day. The ash from that coal was in the pond that broke there.

Consider this for a moment: these are units going on 44 years old, belching out emissions and building up ash day after day, year after year. A simple question: How much longer can we afford to let this go on?

There are major efforts to stop new coal-fired plants. But, it is time to start working on sending these plants to a well-merited and much-needed early retirement program as soon as feasibly possible.


Okay, the situation at TVA looks like it might be worsener even more. TVA releases sludge into the Ocoee River:

Efforts to repair one of a series of dams on the [Ocoee] river released sediment into the rocky channel … a section of the Ocoee River Gorge — a world-renowned location for whitewater sports and site of Olympic competition during the 1996 Atlanta games — was about half-filled with black, foul-smelling muck,

Lucky that the Olympics aren’t next week, no?

“It’s inexcusable. If that had happened during the summer when the river was full of people that could have been a real disaster.”

Does that mean that this would, in some way, have been excusable since there weren’t boaters and people swimming in the rivers in the absence of a news focus on ash spills?

How did it happen?

TVA had sought no permits and hadn’t coordinated with the state environment department about its special operation at the dam, and had not coordinated with Tennessee State Parks or the U.S. Forest Service

Note that this looks to be a sediment spill, of materials from behind a dam, rather than specifically ash sludge … but it does suggest something about TVA’s handling of potentially dangerous waste situations, no?

The irony

This occurred amid Senate EPW hearings, yesterday and today, on the Kingtston spill. From Senator Boxer’s opening statement yesterday

I would like to begin today’s hearing by acknowledging and welcoming some of the people who live in the area devastated by the coal ash spill in Tennessee. I spoke with them yesterday, and heard how this disaster forever changed their lives. They are farmers, ranchers, nurses, and parents … The beautiful place where they lived was instantly transformed by a wall of ash, water and debris. They are anxious about the spill’s potential effects on health, especially to children, and to their livelihoods.

While their’s is a sad predicament, the risk is not isolated to this one isolated, out-of-sight, out-of-mind community

For the holidays …

While the coal industry peddled this for Christmas:

As for “no pollutants to see,” this is what they delivered:

Over 130 million tons of coal combustion waste is produced in the U.S. every year. This is the equivalent of a train of boxcars stretching from Washington, D.C. to Melbourne, Australia.

A 2007 US EPA report found 67 ash impoundments or landfills in 23 states that had caused or were suspected of causing contamination, including to ground or surface waters. EPA knew of dozens of other sites but lacked sufficient information to single out the cause.

This is a big (both in quanity and in terms of ‘quality’ (importance)) challenge. And, this is yet another way we are poisoning ourselves with our coal-addiction.

Some related items of interest

A Tale of Two Disasters: Coal Ash and Tar Sands Tailings

Not Just Tennessee

Discovery Channel Photographs of the Sludge Spill

NYTimes: At Plant in Coal Ash Spill, Toxic Deposits by the Ton

New Media Keeping Coal Ash Spill from Drowning in the Muck

Appalachian Voices: Coal wastes contaminate hundreds of sites in US

Appalachian Voices: TVA Spill

Dirty Coal TVA

National Incidents: TVA Coal Ash Spill

Facing South has been covering this well, such as ‘Heads need to roll at TVA’: CEO blasted for lack of answers at ash disaster hearing and Coal’s ticking timebomb: Could disaster strike a coal ash dump near you?.


Barack Obama should go see the “True Face of Coal” and visit the areas affected by the Kingston release of more than one billion gallons of toxic ash sludge.

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Tags: coal · Energy · environmental · pollution

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 FRACK YOU, Mother Earth … // Jun 26, 2010 at 9:10 am

    […] various mine disasters bring attention to coal mining and there is occasional visibility to the risks of coal waste, there remains a the near utter lack of realization by most Americans of the war on Appalachia […]