More Info on TVA Spill from EPA

We have long been covering issues surrounding the catastrophic <"">Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill and have repeatedly expressed concern over the hazards to people and the environment left in the wake of last year’s spill. In December, the spill dumped a mind-boggling 5.4 million cubic yards—over one billion gallons—of toxic coal sludge into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the TVA Kingston plant.

In July, we wrote that the Associated Press (AP) reported that the TVA “significantly” increased the “hazard potential” for some of its ash sites under a self-assessment given to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Now, says the AP, it seems that toxins from coal burned for power—coal combustion waste—can be found in close to 600 sites in 35 states, citing an emerging federal survey. Of note, says the AP, spills have taken place at 34 of these sites in the past 10 years.

The massive TVA spill is not included in the data, but did spur the EPA to ask 61 power facilities to explain how they manage coal waste, said the AP.

Critics are calling for federal regulation of coal ash ponds based on the sheer number of sites and the potential damage they present, reported the AP. For instance, earlier this year, we wrote about how information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was allegedly covered up by the recent Bush Administration, citing a report by Apparently, the 2002 EPA Risk Screening Report was only finally released in 2009 after President Barack Obama and his administration took office, said Environmental Integrity.

Regardless, the dangers to human and animal life and ecology from the TVA spill are widely known and a recent lawsuit against the utility alleges that increased heavy metal toxin levels—for instance lead, thallium, and arsenic—are in the river water, reported KnoxNews, previously.

Numerous studies have also concluded 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, including 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 far above levels that are considered safe,” said Environmental Integrity. The group also noted that the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is “off the charts, with one contaminant—boron—expected to leach into the environment at levels two thousand times thresholds generally considered to be safe.”

The AP explained that coal ash is a burning coal byproduct that can contains toxins, including heavy metals. The EPA has long known that coal ash contamination poses risks to human and animal life and the environment, said the AP, which noted that there are currently no federal regulations or standards concerning disposal or storage of the toxin. The AP cited nearly 70 cases of coal ash contaminating water.

About 100 million tons of “toxic fly ash, bottom, ash, and scrubber sludge” are dumped into landfills and wet ponds, said Environmental Integrity previously, citing the 2008 TVA spill.

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