Update 2: [Editor's note] The Tennessee TVA Spill is now estimated at over 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge, over 100 times bigger than Exxon Valdez. Read our update here.
Update 1: 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, 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. We’re “lucky” it was sludgy, or thousands would have died. Click here to see an amazing aerial video of the spill – the big chunks in the river are mounds of coal ash.
This is the kind of scary thing that people living with coal worry about every day, while the industry (and some big greens) say that coal will be “clean” if we find out how to sequester the carbon. Just today, 39 groups banded together to ask President Elect Obama to overturn Bush’s recent attempts to de-regulate coal ash even more.
In February 1972, Buffalo Creek Sludge Impoundment, a mere 132 million gallons, killed 125 people, left 5,000 homeless and thousands more with post traumatic stress disorder. In 2000, a 2.2 billion gallon coal waste dam failed in Martin County, Kentucky. The largest dam in the hemisphere is the Brushy Fork Sludge Impoundment, which holds 9 billion gallons of toxic coal waste.
So, this is the history coalfield residents hold in our hearts when we open our emails and see “Slurry Pond Bursts.” Last night, 4 to 6 feet of ice cold toxic coal ash and ice cold slurry burst out of the pond and buried 12 homes, 400 acres, and wrecked a train. This spill likely contained mercury, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals like beryllium and cadmium.
Coal ash is what is leftover when you burn coal. The “Clean Coal” tools talk about putting “scrubbers” to “clean” the air coming out of the stacks, but that just isolates the toxins in the coal ash, which is generally stored in unlined pits near the power plant.
Coal ash is an enormous problem throughout the US. It is more radioactive than nuclear waste, according to Scientific American and is under-regulated. It is made into concrete, drywall, and as a road building material. People living near coal ash dumps have 900 times the national cancer rates.
I’m going to guess that cancer figure just increased even more in eastern Tennessee.