The Dernogalizer

December 23, 2008

Coal Slurry Dam Disaster

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 11:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

I thought it would be worthwhile to draw attention to another disgrace often overlooked when it comes to coal production. One of the byproducts of Mountaintop Removal coal mining is toxic coal slurry. Billions of gallons are stored in dams, and often it’s around local communities. Nevermind that living so close to these toxic pools of waste affects people’s health, but it’s dangerous since the dam holding back the coal slurry can break. If it does, then the surrounding community faces disaster. There have been incidents in the past where people were killed. In the most recent incident, the majority of the damage appears to have been done to the land and the water, but people’s homes were ruined. Here’s the article on what happened: article

Also, in case you’re unfamiliar with what Mountaintop Removal coal mining is, check out this column of mine : here which I wrote back in September where I shine light on what goes on.

***EDIT NOTE*** I just had an e-mail forwarded to me with even greater in depth detail of this disaster, which I think more appropriately describes this atrocity. I’m going to Copy and Paste the e-mail below, in case people wanted greater background on this.

From: Dave Cooper <davecooper928@yahoo.com>
Date: Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 8:05 AM
Subject: [Dave Coopers Mountain Top Removal Roadshow] Huge environmental disaster in Tennessee – Coal Ash spill
To: Mountaintop Removal Road Show list <mountaintopremovalroadshow@lists.riseup.net>

Friends,

There was a huge and terrible environmental disaster in Tennessee yesterday.

photo
The Tennessee Valley Authority, better known as TVA, has a coal-burning power plant located near Harriman, Tennessee, along Interstate 40 between Knoxville and Nashville. The stuff that is left over after TVA burns their coal is called coal ash.
Coal ash contains mercury and dangerous heavy metals like lead and arsenic – materials found naturally in coal are concentrated in the ash.

TVA has a huge mountain of this coal waste material stored in a gigantic pile next to their Harriman (Kingston) power plant, alongside a tributary of the Tennessee River.

On Monday morning Dec. 22 around 1:00 am, the earthen retaining wall around this mountain of coal ash failed and approximately 500 million gallons of nasty black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River – the water supply for Chattanooga TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

This Tennessee TVA spill is over 40 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, if local news accounts are correct.
*** This is a huge environmental disaster of epic proportions.
To see an amazing aerial video of the spill – the big hunks and chunks in the river are mounds of coal ash:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGmVCABMRRQ
There is better aerial footage but you have to watch an Applebees commercial first – go to the link below, then scroll down to the “Most Popular” section and find the button that says “aerial footage”
http://www.wbir.com/video/default.aspx?aid=74330
The local media are downplaying the spill, but the Nashville newspaper (The Tennessean) has a decent article, posted below.
When I first saw the 300 million gallon Martin County coal sludge spill in Kentucky in October 2000 I was outraged. I was sure that it would be a national news story, but it never was, because the coal companies and local law enforcement blocked the road leading to the spill and kept the media out. The national media was confused because they didn’t know what “coal sludge” was. And ….the big national environmental groups didn’t do enough to bring media attention to the Martin County disaster.
Thats not going to happen this time, because we have
1. You Tube
2. Bloggers
3. Digital cameras
4. You!
Please help – we need volunteers to take pictures and video of the spill and post them on the web. We need first hand accounts and documentation of the spill. We need letters to the editor. We need calls and emails to our leaders in Washington and Nashville and Frankfort and to President-Elect Obama.
Please fwd this email to other concerned people and the news media.
*** There is no such thing as clean coal! Look at the video of this spill.
“Clean Coal” is The Big Corporate Lie.
This horrific disaster in Tennessee can be the turning point in our nation’s struggle to build a new network of clean modern renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar power – but we have to raise awareness of this disaster immediately. Thanks for reading.
Here is the Tennessean’s coverage:
http://www.tennessean.com/article/20081223/GREEN02/812230370/1001/RSS6001

Flood of sludge breaks TVA dike

Collapse poses risk of toxic ash

By Anne Paine and Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • December 23, 2008

HARRIMAN, Tenn. — Millions of cubic yards of ashy sludge broke through a dike at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired plant Monday, covering hundreds of acres, knocking one home off its foundation and putting environmentalists on edge about toxic chemicals that may be seeping into the ground and flowing downriver.
One neighboring family said the disaster was no surprise because they have watched the 1960s-era ash pond’s mini-blowouts off and on for years.
Advertisement
About 2.6 million cubic yards of slurry — enough to fill 798 Olympic-size swimming pools — rolled out of the pond Monday, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
[There are 200 gallons per cubic yard so this is about 500 million gallon – Dave]
Cleanup will take at least several weeks, or, in a worst-case scenario, years.
The ash slide, which began just before 1 a.m., covered as many as 400 acres as deep as 6 feet. The wave of ash and mud toppled power lines, covered Swan Pond Road and ruptured a gas line. It damaged 12 homes, and one person had to be rescued, though no one was seriously hurt.
Much remains to be determined, including why this happened, said Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“I fully suspect that the amount of rain we’ve had in the last eight to 10 days, plus the freezing weather … might have had something to do with this,” he said in a news conference Monday on the site.
The area received almost 5 inches of rain this month, compared with the usual 2.8 inches. Freeze and thaw cycles may have undermined the sides of the pond. The last formal report on the condition of the 40-acre pond — an unlined, earthen structure — was issued in January and was unavailable Monday, officials said.
Neighbors Don and Jil Smith, who have lived near the pond for eight years, said that nearly every year TVA has cleaned up what they termed “baby blowouts.”
Ashen liquid similar to that seen on a much larger scale in Monday’s disaster came from the dike, they said.
“It would start gushing this gray ooze,” said Don Smith, whose home escaped harm. “They’d work on it for weeks and weeks.
“They can say this is a one-time thing, but I don’t think people are going to believe them.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, EPA, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation were among agencies that responded to the emergency.

Toxic irritants possible

Coal is burned to produce electricity at the Kingston Fossil Plant, notable for its tall towers seen along Interstate 40 near the Harriman exit in Roane County.
Water is added to the ash, which is the consistency of face powder, for pumping it to the pond. The ash is settled out in that pond before the sludge is moved to other, drier ponds, Kilgore said.
Coal ash can carry toxic substances that include mercury, arsenic and lead, according to a federal study. The amount of poisons in TVA’s ashy wastes that could irritate skin, trigger allergies and even cause cancer or neurological problems could not be determined Monday, officials said.
Viewed from above, the scene looked like the aftermath of a tsunami, with swirls of dirtied water stretching for hundreds of acres on the land, and muddied water in the Emory River.
The Emory leads to the Clinch, which flows into the Tennessee.
Workers sampled river water Monday, with results expected back today, but didn’t sample the dunelike drifts of muddy ash.
That could begin today, officials said, and the potential magnitude of the problem could make this a federally declared Superfund site. That would mean close monitoring and a deep, costly cleanup requiring years of work.
“We’ll be sampling for metals in the ground to see what kind of impact that had,” said Laura Niles, a spokeswoman for the EPA in Atlanta.
“Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as creating a Superfund site, but it depends on what is found.”
Stephen Smith, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Knoxville, said those concerned about water and air quality have tried for years to press for tighter regulation of the ash.
The heavy metals in coal — including mercury and other toxic substances — concentrate in the ash when burned, he said.
“You know where that is now,” he said. “It’s in that stuff that’s all over those people’s houses now.”
Chemicals and metals from coal ash have contaminated drinking water in several states, made people and animals sick in New Mexico, and tainted fish in Texas and elsewhere, according to Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit national environmental law firm that follows the issue.
“It’s discouraging because this is an easy problem to fix,” she said.
Ash could be recycled by using it to make concrete and at the very least should be placed in lined, state-of-the-art landfills, she said.

Plant is still operating

TVA’s Kilgore said that chemicals in the ash are of concern, but that the situation is probably safe. The power plant is still operating, sending the ash to a larger pond on the site.
“There are levels of chemicals in there that we are concerned about,” Kilgore said. “We don’t think there’s anything immediate of danger because most of that’s contained, but that’s why we have sampling folks out.”
Officials were monitoring a water intake that serves Kingston City and is only a few miles downstream from the Kingston plant, but said no problem had been noted there as of Monday afternoon.
The power producer, which oversees the Tennessee River system, had slowed river flow in the area, releasing less water from key dams, so the pollution might be better contained for possible cleanup.
TVA has insurance for an event like this, spokeswoman Barbara Martucci said, but what the cleanup cost is and how much insurance will pay remains to be determined.
Otherwise, ratepayers in Tennessee could bear much of the costs. TVA provides virtually all the electricity in the state, along with parts of six others.
Contact Anne Paine at 615-259-8071 or apaine@tennessean.com.
Advertisements

9 Comments »

  1. I definitely appreciate this kind of blog post–people really seem to misunderstand coal (in large part because of the brilliant and completely misleading ad campaign on TV right now)–but, in the future, perhaps consider cleaning up the copy you pasted in from the e-mail!

    Comment by pandemicgreen — December 24, 2008 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Pandemic. I always want to make my posts as readable as possible, so in the future I’ll take into account the format of everything to make sure.

    Comment by Matt Dernoga — December 24, 2008 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

  3. […] Coal Slurry Dam Disaster […]

    Pingback by Coal Ash Dumps Unregulated « The Dernogalizer — January 8, 2009 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  4. […] besides the fact that coal burning is driving global warming and causing giant clean-up messes, it’s also getting more expensive for ratepayers.  A good example of this is a plant being […]

    Pingback by Coal Power Getting More Expensive « The Dernogalizer — January 12, 2009 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

  5. […] regulate coal.  The coal industry has gotten a lot of much deserved negative press ever since the coal slurry dam disaster that happened a month ago.  This brought to light that, maybe we should regulate our coal ash.  […]

    Pingback by The Collapse of Clean Coal « The Dernogalizer — January 24, 2009 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

  6. […] a recap…..The coal industry has gotten a lot of much deserved negative press ever since the coal slurry dam disaster that happened a few months ago. This brought to light that, maybe we should regulate our coal ash. […]

    Pingback by Clean Coal was Never Being Developed by Bush Admin! | CCAN Blog — March 13, 2009 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  7. […] implications of oil spills are also pretty daunting.  Coal slurry dam disasters can be absolutely devastating.  The counter-argument regarding extraction would be that compared to coal mining and oil […]

    Pingback by Natural Gas « The Dernogalizer — June 6, 2009 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

  8. […] implications of oil spills are also pretty daunting. Coal slurry dam disasters can be absolutely devastating. The counter-argument regarding extraction would be that compared to coal mining and oil drilling, […]

    Pingback by Natural Gas « It’s Getting Hot In Here — June 7, 2009 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

  9. […] implications of oil spills are also pretty daunting. Coal slurry dam disasters can be absolutely devastating. The counter-argument regarding extraction would be that compared to coal mining and oil drilling, […]

    Pingback by Natural Gas | CCAN Blog — June 7, 2009 @ 11:28 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: