Selenium Found in Fish Exposed to TVA Fly Ash Spill

We’ve been following the devastating December 22 <"">Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill since a massive 5.4 million cubic yards of coal sludge were dumped into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding its Kingston plant. 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 sites are subject to federal regulation, inspection, or environmental monitoring.

Now, KnoxNews is reporting on the first study that looked at the effects of the historic spill on aquatic live in the rivers and found that the fish there contain high selenium levels. Some experts say the selenium could have been building up for years and was not a result of the December TVA spill. Regardless there are environmental dangers resulting from the TVA spill and from coal facilities, in general, which expose area residents and the environment to some serious and dangerous health and environmental problems, such as radium and arsenic exposure. For instance, we recently reported that about 100 million tons of “toxic fly ash, bottom, ash, and scrubber sludge” are dumped into landfills and wet ponds, citing Environmental Integrity.

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According to Knoxville News, the recent study found that the TVA spill sludge “contains 3,380 tons of the 10 most toxic elements in fly ash.” Selenium is a toxin that bioaccumulates in fish, explained Knoxville News; samples taken in January indicated both “swelling and abnormal tissue growth in gills.” The research also disclosed “one catfish was stuffed with ash that accounted for eight percent of its body weight. “Those fish were already contaminated by selenium,” Wake Forest biologist Dennis Lemly, who has studied selenium’s impact on fish since the 1970s, said, quoted Knoxville News.

The study, released early this week by researchers at Appalachian State University, environmental publication Appalachian Voices, the Tennessee Aquarium, and Wake Forest University, found some cenospheres (silica particles that float on the water’s surface when released from ash), previously believed inert, thus not of danger, are, in fact, coated with iron oxide, said Knoxville News. This creates a significant health and ecological problem because iron oxide helps carry toxins such as arsenic downstream. The researchers said that the iron oxide-coated cenospheres are like, “microscopic rafts that can transport toxic elements,” reported Knoxville News.

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According to the report, selenium levels are nearing “the tipping point,” said Knoxville News. And, according to Lemly, if more selenium is released, fish populations could be devastated since selenium builds up in the reproductive system explaining that, “Over the course of two to three years, the adults would die off and the population would essentially be eliminated,” Knoxville News quoted. Pennsylvania soil scientist Bryce Payne, noted that when high selenium rates are caught, it is too late to stop the danger since selenium is a “slow-release toxic element. Once the horse gets out of the barn, there’s no way to get it back.”

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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 Apparently, a 2002 EPA Risk Screening Report was only released in 2009 after Barack Obama took office, said Environmental Integrity. 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. The group noted the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is “off the charts.”

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