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Residents Express Anger Over TVA Fly Ash Spill

Jan 8, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP People living around the site of last month's Tennessee fly ash spill are still not satisfied with the answers they are getting from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), as well as state and local officials.  According to the Associated Press, at two public meetings in Kingston and Harriman, Tennessee on Tuesday, residents had many questions about the health, environmental and economic impacts of the coal ash spill that decimated much of the area on Dec. 22.

The TVA coal ash spill occurred after  a wall holding back 80 acres of sludge from the TVA’s facility in Roane County, Tennessee broke.  Though the exact cause of the accident was not known, it was thought that six inches of rain over the previous 10 days and overnight temperatures in the teens contributed to the dam breach.

The TVA said that at least 300 acres of land had been coated by the sludge, making it  larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The authority now says that  5.4 million cubic yards of potentially toxic fly ash was released from a retention pond. According to the Knoxville News, that’s triple the estimate of  1.7 million cubic yards the TVA first released. The fly ash spill damaged  15 homes. All the residents were  evacuated, but at least three homes were deemed uninhabitable.

Following the spill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detected high levels of arsenic and heavy metals in the Clinch and Emory rivers near an area where the sludge spill occurred.  Residents were told to avoid drinking water from private wells and springs, but officials insisted municipal water supplies were safe.

Some people attending the Kingston meeting were skeptical of that assertion.  According to the Associated Press, the mayor of the town was castigated by some for making a public display of drinking municipal water as a way to reassure residents after tests of raw river water had turned up arsenic and other toxins.

At the Harriman meeting, some attendees accused  the TVA of putting profits ahead of safety when addressing earlier problems at the pond, the Associated Press said.  As we reported yesterday, leaks had occurred at the retention pond in 2003 and 2006.  The TVA stopped dredging operations in a main pond after the 2003 leak, but continued using a smaller temporary pond while repairs were made.

The TVA resumed dredging in 2006, only to find ash seeping out of the dike just nine months later.  The authority then installed a system to relieve pressure on the walls. In an earlier Associated Press report,  a former federal regulator said the TVA should have drained the pond and rebuilt the dam, rather than attempt repairs.

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