EPA to Take Over TVA Clean Up

We have long been following the devastating December 22, 2008 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Tennessee_Fly_Ash_Spill">Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill that dumped a massive 5.4 million cubic yards of coal sludge in Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding its Kingston plant.

TVA has spent in excess of $68 million in cleanup and $11 million in property acquisitions, to date, with total costs estimated at about $845 million, not including “litigation, penalties and settlements,” said Knoxville News in a prior report. There are environmental dangers resulting from the TVA spill, which are exposing area residents and the environment to some serious and dangerous health and environmental problems, such as radium and arsenic exposure.

In an earlier report, the Tennessean discussed the potential for dangerous amounts of selenium being released in area waterways and ReadItNews noted that no known coal burning site—including the now infamous Kingston site—are subject to federal regulation, inspection, or environmental monitoring.

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Now, KnoxvilleBiz.com is reporting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assignment of the catastrophic spill under the Superfund law could actually protect the TVA from legal moves seeking a thorough review of the environmental issues surrounding the clean-up. Although the fossil plant has not yet been officially added to the Superfund, the EPA move means that the fly ash spill clean up will occur under the auspices of Superfund regulations, said the Knoxville News.

Numerous studies conclude that coal dumps leach dangerous toxins into the environment that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health outcomes in water and wildlife populations, but the TVA states that sampling results indicate its air and water quality tests meet government standards and that heavy metal levels are below hazardous waste classifications, said KnoxNews in a prior report. Water samples reveal mercury levels above and below the criteria for protecting fish for consumption and, while some tests indicated levels that passed the Chronic Water Quality Criteria test, they failed the domestic water supply test, said Volunteer TV/WVLT previously.

Now, some plaintiffs in one of many lawsuits are looking to force the TVA to supply an environmental impact statement along with input from the public, said Knoxville News. But, points out the paper, the Superfund law—The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)—federally bans legal challenges in such environmental cleanups; EPA spokeswoman, Davina Marraccini, noted that an environmental impact statement is required for cleanups under CERCLA. Although the TVA completed an environmental assessment, not as complete as environmental impact statement, said Knoxville News, the assessment found that ash removal would not pose “significant impact to the environment.”

Meanwhile, we recently wrote about how information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was covered up by the Bush Administration, according to a report released by EnvironmentalIntegrity.org. Apparently, a 2002 EPA Risk Screening Report was only finally released in 2009 after Barack Obama and his administration took office, said Environmental Integrity.

About 100 million tons of “toxic fly ash, bottom, ash, and scrubber sludge” are dumped into landfills and wet ponds, said Environmental Integrity. This new release points to significant, toxic, and life-threatening responses to these sites specifically, frightening guarantees of developing cancer from drinking contaminated water and suffering damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs from toxic metal exposure, such as cadmium, cobalt, lead, and other pollutants. The group noted the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is “off the charts.”

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