America’s Worst Unknown Environmental Disaster

Three days before Christmas, a barrier broke and toxic sludge spilled across 300 acres in Roane County, Tennessee.  Now much of this land is under six feet of sludge. This Tennessee coal plant created, for the United States, the largest environmental disaster.

A forty-acre pond containing toxic coal ash has collapsed, spilling out millions of gallons of coal ash. Environmentalists say the spill is more than thirty times larger than the Exxon Valdez, but the story has received little national attention.

2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled out of the retention pond, burying homes and roads.  The sludge has flowed into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people downstream in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.

Greenpeace warned that coal ash typically contains high concentrations of toxic chemicals like mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals.

An update from Reuters in April:

“Our testing has revealed the far-reaching damage this spill has caused to this community, imperiling people`s health, and devaluing property,” said Robin Greenwald, head of the Toxic Torts unit at Weitz & Luxenberg.

Lab tests of the TVA coal ash sludge revealed numerous potentially harmful metals, including arsenic, which was the highest in concentration. One sample showed 75 parts per million and the second composite showed 91 ppm. EPA has set the arsenic standard for drinking water at 0.010 parts per million. This data appears consistent with results reported by the Environmental Protection Agency and TVA. Collectively, they reveal that arsenic exposure is likely major concern to area residents. Additionally, surface water samples were collected and tested for arsenic, which was detected at low levels. That finding indicates that vigilant monitoring should continue.

AC360 update, in July, about the health issues that are arising in the disaster area. Erin Brockovich has been asked to help these people in Tennessee whose fears are mounting.

They are now having difficulty breathing and have developed skin rashes, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. What’s worse is that they are being told that these materials can’t harm them, yet their bodies tell them otherwise.

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4 thoughts on “America’s Worst Unknown Environmental Disaster

  1. This is another example of the fallacy behind bigger is better. Coal is touted as being an inexpensive source of energy and on the surface, it is. If you can afford to buy the permission to not have to deal with all of the expenses of coal use. Somehow, disposing of the toxic byproducts has managed to slip through the crack.

    It is the same with factory meat farms. The only reason they can produce meat more cheaply is because they do not have to pay for the proper disposal of the waste products. Smaller farmers are held liable by various state and federal agencies for how they deal with the tons of poo even a modest herd of critters generate.

    If these corporations don’t have to factor cleanup into their costs, just about anything can appear cheap.

  2. And it definitely the problem with nuclear power. Illinois has 9 nuclear plants and since no suitable repository has been built yet the waste is all sitting at the sites.

    Of course if you go to the Rove thread at TP you will learn that the spill is all President Obama’s fault and we’re not blaming him. Of course it happened December 22 but still, he’d been elected already.

  3. Republicans are like men who father children and walk away. They get what they want and have no sense of responsibility for what follows.

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