Many of you are probably already aware of the recent massive and devastating coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant in eastern Tennessee. That spill, which poured some five million cubic yards of toxic coal ash out, flooding the nearby area and spreading into the nearby river, is considered the largest ecological disaster of its kind. The flood of toxic sludge destroyed three homes and damaged several dozen properties. There were no immediate injuries or deaths, but at least one nearby resident is complaining of headaches and chronic sore throat.
Last week Tom Kilgore, CEO of the TVA, admitted to the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee that the plant had suffered two less severe leaks over the past five years, but that the breaches had not been properly or adequately repaired. The confession was made to the Senate’s Environment & Public Works Committee, and was referred to as “noticeable seepage”. Those events occurred in 2003 and 2005, making the problem appear to be regular and cyclic.
Mr. Kilgore begged off that heavy rains and freezing temperatures had probably contributed to the breach. The explanation offered does nothing to explain or justify why such conditions weren’t anticipated and provided for. The TVA plant’s holding ponds are not lined either. While this is not illegal (yet,) it is unwise, takes an unhealthy risk. Concerns remain as to what affect the ash will have once the water dries out, leaving the toxic substances to become airborne where it will be breathed and settle in people’s homes.
Committee chairwoman, Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA,) was outspokenly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to declare coal ash a hazardous waste and for refusing to set national standards for its storage and disposal. She cites this disaster as proof of a need for closer oversight and better precautions regarding such toxic wastes. Senator Boxer also claimed to a portion of responsibility for the spill, admiting that she had been chairwoman of the environment panel since 2007 but had paid no attention to the T.V.A.’s hazardous byproducts.
Senator Boxer and other members of the Environment and Public Works Committee said they would press for new coal ash regulations, including a requirement that it be stored in lined pits and dried, rather than just being dropped into the waste pond, to prevent the toxic substances from pouring into towns and rivers as it did in December of 2008.
There are over thirteen-hundred waste ponds in the U.S., amounting to billions of gallons of fly ash. This byproduct of coal-generated electricity contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury. which are known to cause cancer, respiratory disease, crippling nervous system disorders and reproductive problems.
All of this serves as further proof that we MUST put aside fossil-fuel based energy technologies and embrace alternative energy sources — the sooner, the better.