My last blog was about the coal-burning power plant responsible for the massive spill of coal ash in East Tennessee late last month. The chief executive of the Tennessee Valley Authority acknowledged Thursday that the plant’s containment ponds had leaked two other times in the last five years but had not been adequately repaired.
The TVA official, Tom Kilgore, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the authority had found that dikes holding millions of cubic yards of toxic coal ash mixed with water at the authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant had allowed noticeable “seepage” in 2003 and 2005. The authority chose inexpensive patches rather than a more extensive repair of the holding ponds, possibly contributing to the catastrophic failure on Dec. 22, Mr. Kilgore said. Here we go again–profits over safety!
Mr. Kilgore also testified that the December breach appeared to have occurred at a different site from the one where the earlier leaks happened, so it was not clear whether more extensive repairs could have prevented the disaster. Nonetheless, he said, “the most expensive solution wasn’t chosen,” adding, “Obviously, that doesn’t look good for us.”
The toxic flood caused by the collapse of the holding pond destroyed three homes and damaged several dozen properties. There were no immediate injuries or deaths, but the water supply has been compromised by toxic metals, including arsenic.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair, Senator Barbara Boxer, said the spill dramatized the need for strict regulation of fly ash and other waste from coal-fired power plants and for closer oversight of the T.V.A. Ms. Boxer was strongly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to declare coal ash a hazardous waste and for refusing to set national standards for its storage and disposal.
Ms. Boxer, who passed around the committee table a large Mason jar of sludge from the spill, also accepted a share of the blame for the Tennessee mess. She said she had been chairwoman of the environment panel since 2007 but had paid no attention to the T.V.A., one of the nation’s largest producers of electricity, and its hazardous byproducts.
She and several other committee members said they would press for new coal ash regulations, including a requirement that it be stored in lined pits and dried out so that it could not cascade into towns and rivers.
More than 1,300 dumps across the United States contain billions of gallons of fly ash, which contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury. In sufficient concentrations, these metals have been linked to human cancers, respiratory diseases, nervous system disorders and reproductive problems.