Rupture Reported at Another TVA Retention Pond as Calls for More Oversight GrowJan 9, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Unbelievably, another waste pond at a coal-powered plant owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has ruptured - this time in Alabama. TVA officials say that unlike another incident which spilled a billion gallons of coal ash in Eastern Tennessee last month, this spill has been contained. But news of this latest accident is sure to increase calls for greater regulation of waste retention ponds.
According to the Associated Press, the latest spill occurred at a TVA plant near Stevenson, Alabama, which is about 30 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This pond contained gypsum, which is different than the fly ash spilled at the authority's Kingston Fossil Plant in December.
A TVA spokesperson told the Associated Press that most of the material from the Alabama leak flowed into a settling pond at the plant site, but some spilled into nearby Widows Creek. The leak has stopped and the TVA is conducting temporary repairs on the pond, the Associated Press said.
This is the latest retention pond spill at a TVA plant in the past several weeks. On December 22, the spill at the TVA's Kingston plant decimated more than 300 acres, 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.
On Wednesday, the Kingston spill prompted four environmental groups to call for new federal and state regulations on wet coal ash storage. Right now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t regulate the waste because it isn’t considered a hazard. But coal ash can contain heavy metals and other toxins. In fact, it is known that the waste that spilled from the TVA pond contained dangerous substances, including arsenic. The EPA has been studying the issue for 28 years, and regulation has largely been up to the states.
At a news conference Wednesday, representatives from the Environment Integrity Project, EarthJustice, United Mountain Defense, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called for more oversight of coal waste ponds. According to an Environmental Integrity Project report called "Disaster in Waiting", 16 wet ash facilities around the country received more toxic metals in recent years than the Kingston facility. In fact, the report said the coal ash pond in Stevenson, Alabama may contain even more toxic compounds than the Kingston plant's waste site.
The report criticizes the Bush administration and state governments such as those in Alabama and Tennessee for not doing enough to monitor wet fly ash disposal. Alabama has no regulations for such ponds, and states like Tennessee and North Carolina do not require liners for the ash pond/landfills, the report said. And prior to the Tennessee spill, that state left most inspections up to the TVA itself.