EIP: TVA coal ash spill released 2.6 million pounds of arsenic, nine other toxic pollutants into Emory River in 2008

Dec. 8, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 8, 2009 -- New data paint an even grimmer picture of the late December 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, according to the Environmental Integrity Project...

• More than the entire water pollution output of all other U.S. power plants; New data makes strong case for EPA Action on coal ash ponds, raises concerns about TVA's other Kingston-like coal ash ponds in TN, KY and AL

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 8, 2009 -- New data highlighted in public for the first time today paint an even grimmer picture of the late December 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, according to the Environmental Integrity Project. Reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) show that the TVA's Kingston coal plant dumped into the Emory River in 2008 an estimated 140,000 pounds of arsenic contained in coal ash -- more than twice the reported amount of the toxin discharged into U.S. waterways from all U.S. power plants in 2007.

The new Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data submitted to the EPA by TVA also show that the Kingston ash spill deposited nearly 320 tons of vanadium in the Emory River, or more than seven times the total discharge of this toxic pollutant from all power plants in 2007. The Kingston facility singlehandedly discharged more than of chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel into the Emory River last year than reported discharges of those pollutants from the entire U.S. power industry in 2007.

The EIP analysis of the new TVA data finds a total of 2.66 million pounds of 10 toxic pollutants - arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, vanadium and zinc. That compares to the much lower 2.04 million pounds of such discharges from all U.S. power plants into surface waters in 2007. The 2.66 million pound of toxic pollutants dumped into the Emory River in 2008 is nearly 45 times higher than the 59,950 pounds of such materials the TVA reported that released into all U.S. waterways in 2007. To see a detailed chart comparing the TVA versus all U.S. power plant toxic pollution levels, go to http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/ .

Arsenic and other toxic metals were contained in the estimated one billion gallons of coal ash that spilled when the Kingston impoundment dikes burst on December 22, 2008. These toxic pollutants are hazardous to the health of humans, fish and other aquatic life.

Eric Schaeffer, director, Environmental Integrity Project, said: "Toxic metals are notoriously difficult to clean up from ground and surface waters and the aquatic ecosystem. Although TVA has reported that it will spend close to a billion dollars to clean up the Kingston site, it remains to be seen whether this cleanup will be effective. In addition, TVA owns nearly 3,000 acres of ash ponds at its other coal plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, four of which are rated as 'high hazard' sites by U.S. EPA. These ash disposal sites also leak their toxic cargo into groundwater, or discharge it directly into rivers, creeks and lakes as runoff or through permitted outfalls. Until the EPA takes action, there are no federal rules setting standards for the safe disposal of ash, or limiting the discharge of toxic ash leachate into our waterways."

Schaeffer added: "EPA is expected to finally propose standards for ash disposal sites by the end of December, and has promised to require the industry to meet Clean Water standards for limiting toxic discharges that were supposed to take effect twenty five years ago. Let's hope these overdue regulations lead to the shutdown of unsafe and outdated ash ponds like the one that burst its banks in Tennessee one year ago this month."

Donna Lisenby, Appalachian Voices and Watuaga Riverkeeper, said: "The enormous increase in heavy metals discharged by TVA is very troubling. First, many of these metals bio-accumulate and pose significant risks to human and environmental health. Second, TVA has repeatedly attempted to hide the potential toxicity of the coal ash. For example, TVA's Anda Ray said to 60 Minutes host Leslie Stahl, 'I'd say that the constituents, the things that are in the coal ash, are the same things that are naturally occurring in soil and rock.' But if you compare Kingston discharges from 2007 to 2008 you see an astronomical increase in at least 10 very dangerous metals. If it wasn't for EIP bringing the data and facts forward, the public would never learn the truth from TVA."

Charles H. Norris, P.G., Geo-Hydro Inc., Denver, said: "It is impossible to quantify the amount of toxic metals released from Kingston's toxic coal ash into the Emory River before settling to the bottom of the river, and how much more may be released over time. Sampling by the state of Tennessee, Appalachian State University and environmental organizations in the weeks after the spill documented levels of arsenic and other pollutants in the river that exceeded water quality standards for human health and aquatic toxicity. More recent samples by the state of Tennessee appear to show lower levels of arsenic and other metals at water quality monitoring stations. Such improvement does not represent permanent isolation of these metals. Chemical gradients will move them with time. As the Emory River is dredged to help reduce the volume of toxic ash in the river, toxic metals like arsenic may leach into the water from any remaining ash on the river bottom over time, carrying contaminants further downstream, e.g., into the Clinch or Tennessee Rivers."

Currently, there are no federal rules setting standards for the safe disposal of ash or limiting the discharge of toxic leachate into our waterways. EPA has announced that it will propose regulations for disposal of coal ash by the end of 2009.

Health Issues from Toxic Pollutants
Inorganic arsenic is a known human carcinogen. Arsenic is also linked to cardiovascular and dermal effects, encephalopathy, and peripheral neuropathy.

Barium can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness. Ingesting large amounts of barium, dissolved in water, can change heart rhythm, and can cause paralysis and possibly death.

Chromium VI is a known human carcinogen. Chromium VI exposure has also caused stomach tumors in humans and animals. High levels can cause harmful effects such as irritation of the nose, mouth and eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and even death.

Exposure to high levels of manganese can affect the nervous system. Very high levels of manganese may impair brain development in children.

High mercury levels can permanently damage the brain and other organs. Mercury can harm developing fetus, causing brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that some nickel compounds are carcinogenic to humans and that metallic nickel may possibly be carcinogenic to humans. Although impacts from ingestion are unclear, workers who breathed vanadium suffered lung irritation, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, runny nose, and a sore throat. Ingesting large doses even for a short time can cause cramps, nausea, and vomiting.

Inhaling large amounts of zinc can cause a short-term disease called metal fume fever.

About EIP
The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.


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