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TVA Fly Ash Spill Victims Seek Medical Monitoring

Jan 20, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Two Tennessee families have filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the wake of last month's fly ash spill at the agency's Kingston Fossil Plant.  The lawsuit is seeking medical monitoring for people who may have been exposed to the potentially toxic fly ash.

The TVA coal ash spill occurred on December 22, 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.  However,  many people living around the Kingston plant are skeptical of those claims.  

The latest TVA lawsuit was filed by the Giltnane family of Kingston and Rockwood, Tennessee, along with Ian and Sabrina Cullen, of Kingston.  The claim, which was filed in federal district court in Knoxville, alleges that the TVA had knowledge that its coal ash sludge containment pond was in danger of releasing massive amounts of toxic substances into the community, and failed to take reasonable steps that would have prevented the disaster.

"Our primary concern is the health impact of this massive release of toxic materials into our community," said Levi Giltnane, said in a press release announcing the suit. "We have a two-year-old daughter, Skylar. For her and for the other children in this area, we want the TVA to give us honest answers about what is in this toxic ash."

The lawsuit is asking the court to require the TVA to:

  • Fund medical testing and monitoring for their family and other families exposed to the toxic coal ash, and any medical treatments and procedures determined necessary as a result of their exposure;
  • Fund environmental monitoring in residential communities and waterways affected by the release.
  • Provide monetary compensation for the Giltnanes and other families, for the costs of environmental remediation, damage to property, loss of property value, and loss of income by local businesses affected by the massive release.

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