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TVA Fly Ash Spill Clean Up Plan Details Released

Feb 9, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The debris and toxins left behind following late December’s historic Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) massive fly ash spill are finally seeing plans for clean up.  WBIR reported that an official with the TVA met with area residents this weekend to discuss how it will clean up the Emory River; dredging is among the steps that will be taken next month.

A senior official at the TVA’s Office of Environment and Research presented the group with details about its proposed first phase of clean up, which was recently submitted to state and federal agencies for approval, said WBIR; answers are expected within the next week.  The first phase of the clean up will focus on removing much of the three million cubic yards of fly ash from the Emory River; phase two, which has not been finalized will address removing the remainder of the sludge from the river’s bottom, reported WBIR.  The fly ash spill released over one billion gallons of coal sludge waste from a holding facility at TVA’s Kingston coal-burning power plant, flooding over 400 acres, spilling into a major drinking water source, and damming the Emory River tributary.

Phase one will concentrate on removing ash from the Emory River and bringing it to TVA’s sluice channels for “dewatering,” a drying process that will enable to end product to be moved to another area for additional drying, reported WBIR.  When the ash reaches a state in which it is 80 percent solid, it will be stacked at a nearby TVA ball field until it is permanently moved to an as-of-yet undetermined location, said WBIR.

Meanwhile, the massive fly ash spill is revealing some serious and dangerous health and environmental outcomes.  Science Daily reported that a Duke University report, conducted on samples from the accident found that “exposure to radium- and arsenic-containing particulates in the ash could have severe health implications” in the affected areas.  “Our radioactive measurements of solid ash samples from Tennessee suggests the ash has radiation levels above those reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for typical coal ash,” said Avner Vengosh, associate professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  The research team found the radium contents in spill samples measured at levels higher than occur in most bottom and fly ash samples, which means that the fly ash in Tennessee is testing with higher radium levels.

Radium is a Group-A carcinogenic material, according to the EPA; radium exposure can lead to cancer.  Also, high arsenic levels were detected in water samples, at 95 parts per billion (ppb), which is drastically higher than the EPA’s safe public drinking water standard of 10 ppb.  Arsenic, a toxic metal, can increase the risk of some cancers, skin damage, and circulatory problems.

Now, residents are worried about the effects of what they describe as “mini-tornadoes” of ash occurring at the spill site when wind is present.  Also of concern is that the sludge is plugging up water flow, which means that if a major flood were to occur in this year’s rainy season, a number of homes—in addition to the homes already damaged, some irreparably—could suffer serious damage, wrote WBIR.

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