Coal Ash Slurry Pond Bursts in Tennessee

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.

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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.

35 Responses to “Coal Ash Slurry Pond Bursts in Tennessee”


  1. 1 Lawrence MacDonald Dec 23rd, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Thanks for this solid report. A great reminder that clean coal is a lie, and that we must somehow persuade Obama to stop using this term.

  2. 2 Mattie Reitman Dec 23rd, 2008 at 2:54 am

    This is an historic event in our nation’s history. We need some real leadership up in here.

  3. 3 Carol Overland Dec 23rd, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    The news coverage is dismal. I googled “TVA” and “coal ash” and my blog was on the top of the list. That’s insane… there are only 4 news articles that come up. Looks like we’ve got some work to do!

  4. 4 Carol Overland Dec 23rd, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Search for “TVA” and “flood” and there it is, and it’s gone national now

  5. 5 Claire Roby Dec 23rd, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    This wasn’t covered in my local paper at all. That’s ridiculous. I’m working on a letter to the editor right now. Write one! Everyone should know about this.

  6. 6 fullsignull Dec 24th, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Incredible. What a disaster…

  7. 7 Karl Dec 24th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I am disgusted with the news coverage of this event. CNN just created an article on it. http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/12/23/tennessee.sludge.spill/index.html
    But No where near the front page. MSNBC hasnt even created an article on it. This is a horrific event that has happened twice in the past decade! that is unacceptable for something that is so toxic. Thanks for posting this article.

  8. 8 Concerned Citizen Dec 30th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I can’t believe that they are allowed to store this stuff the way they do. I called my congressman
    And asked him about this and what can be done about this and all he said was they have bigger fish to fry. He said
    They have a bigger problem with all of the monster rain that we have been having. Well slap me in the ass with a handfull of grapes. I’m tired of politicans and TVA. Who will get fined for this?

  1. 1 Clean Coal? Coal Ash Storage Failure Covers 12 Homes, 400 Acres : Planetsave Trackback on Dec 22nd, 2008 at 6:09 pm
  2. 2 Legalectric » Blog Archive » TVA coal ash spews over Tennessee Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 12:39 pm
  3. 3 Scholars and Rogues » “Clean” coal ash flood may make new Superfund site Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 1:27 pm
  4. 4 Massive flood of coal-ash sludge at Tennessee power plant « The Pump Handle Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 2:43 pm
  5. 5 “Clean” coal ash flood may make new Superfund site | Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 3:11 pm
  6. 6 Wonk Room » Coal Front Group Sets Up Dirty ‘Blogger Brigade’ To Fight Reality Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 5:40 pm
  7. 7 Coal Slurry Disaster in Tennessee is Largest Ever : Red, Green, and Blue Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 5:56 pm
  8. 8 This is “Clean Coal”: Massive Coal Sludge Spill Dwarfs Exxon Valdez Disaster « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 8:43 pm
  9. 9 “Clean” coal ash flood may make new Superfund site (Update #4) | Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 10:54 pm
  10. 10 This is "Clean Coal": Massive Coal Sludge Spill Dwarfs Exxon Valdez Disaster | Alternative Energy News Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 11:01 pm
  11. 11 This is "Clean Coal": Massive Coal Sludge Spill Dwarfs Exxon Valdez Disaster | Alternative Energy News Trackback on Dec 23rd, 2008 at 11:02 pm
  12. 12 This is "Clean Coal": Massive Coal Sludge Spill Dwarfs Exxon Valdez Disaster Trackback on Dec 24th, 2008 at 3:05 am
  13. 13 This is "Clean Coal": Massive Coal Sludge Spill Dwarfs Exxon Valdez Disaster | Eco Friendly Mag Trackback on Dec 24th, 2008 at 5:57 am
  14. 14 A Bit More Insight About Coal Ash - The WebZappr Trackback on Dec 24th, 2008 at 7:41 am
  15. 15 Coal Slurry Spill Poisons Tennessee River Trackback on Dec 24th, 2008 at 1:19 pm
  16. 16 Tenessee radio-active coal-ash slurry pond failure not a mining incident | I THINK MINING Trackback on Dec 26th, 2008 at 5:29 pm
  17. 17 Kohle-Unglück in Tennessee - CleanEnergy-Project - for a better enviroment Trackback on Dec 28th, 2008 at 7:21 am
  18. 18 TVA gives worst environmental Christmas present « Nature’s Crusaders’ Action Log Trackback on Dec 28th, 2008 at 3:05 pm
  19. 19 The Understory » Activists on the Ground at Tennessee Coal Ash Spill Disaster Trackback on Dec 29th, 2008 at 1:37 pm
  20. 20 Boycott Clean Coal & the Ed Shultz Show « Grassroots Grow - People Taking Action Trackback on Feb 9th, 2009 at 4:37 pm
  21. 21 Rainy March in March - TVA Headquarters « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Mar 14th, 2009 at 9:42 pm
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