Cross-posted from WattHead – Energy News and Commentary
Update: [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.
Let’s see how the “clean coal” PR hucksters at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity try to spin this tragic news: a retention pond holding toxic coal ash slurry burst Monday in Roane County, Tennessee, releasing over half a billion gallons of potentially toxic sludge that swept into the nearby town of Harriman and contaminated tributaries of the Tennessee River. The resulting flood damaged 15 homes, injured one man as it knocked his house off its foundations, and has left over 400 acres of land covered by several feet of coal ash, mud and contaminated water (see video below).
Coal ash and slurry is the normal byproduct of coal-fired electricity generating, and is usually stored in giant retaining ponds near coal plants. The resulting coal slurry is frequently contaminated by heavy metals, mercury and arsenic.
Yesterday’s tragedy struck at the coal ash impoundment associated with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal-fired steam plant and released about 2.6 million cubic yards of slurry, the Tennessean reports. That’s enough to fill nearly 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and is over 40 times more contaminated sludge than the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill.
As usual, a picture is worth a thousand words – and a video is worth even more; you can see scenes from the environmental disaster at the photo gallery here and the video below:
Greenpeace has called for a criminal investigation into the disaster, noting that similar spills in the past have resulted in felony charges.
“Every facility like this is supposed to have a spill contingency plan to prevent this kind of disaster,” said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative Director. “The authorities need to get to the bottom of what went wrong and hold the responsible parties accountable.”
The coal industry has a long and not-so-stellar record of coal slurry disasters.
At ItsGettingHotInHere.org, Dana writes:
In February 1972, Buffalo Creek Sludge Impoundment, [burst and released] 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.”
The Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles, writing at DailyKos, notes:
“There are literally hundreds of these sludge impoundments across the United States. As coal has dominated Appalachia, it has left behind a toxic legacy for residents, a legacy that will haunt the region for decades. For example, in Sundial, West Virginia, an elementary school sits just 400 yards downhill from a massive impoundment containing 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge.”
Greenpeace notes that, like Exxon Valdez, the millions of gallons of coal sludge released Monday could take years to clean up, and some of the damage to the ecosystem could be irreparable.
“If the Exxon Valdez was a symbol of pollution 20 years ago, the Tennessee Coal Spill of 2008 is the symbol of it today,” said Kate Smolski, Senior Legislative Coordinator for Greenpeace.
Smolski added that these local impacts represent only a small fraction of coal’s negative impact.
“The really sad thing about this spill is that it’s only a small example of the damage coal causes,” Smolski added. “Add in global warming, tens of thousands of annual premature deaths from power plant pollution, and hundreds of mountains leveled across Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, and that’s the real picture of coal.”
See related posts:
- Breaking: A Coal Sludge Spill Bigger than Exxon Valdez (Bruce Nilles at DailyKos)
- Coal Ash Slurry Pond Bursts in Tennessee (DanaWV at ItsGettingHotInHere.org)
- Massive Coal Ash Spill in Tennessee puts the lie to Clean Coal (Kevin Grandia at DeSmogBlog)
- Real-life coal disaster pops coal industry pr bubble (Pete Altman at NRDC’s Switchboard)
- Dam Breach in Tennessee Releases Tsunami of Toxic Coal Sludge (David Sassoon at SolveClimate)
- “Clean” coal ash flood may make new Superfund site(Brian Angliss at ScholarsAndRogues)
- Coal Front Group Sets Up Dirty ‘Blogger Brigade’ To Fight Reality (Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room)
- Greenpeace Calls for Criminal Investigation into Coal Ash Spill (GreenpeaceUSA release)