TVA Claims Water Near Fly Ash Spill Safe for Recreation, Tests Disagree

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) just announced that damaged roads are being resurfaced, river dredging continues, and word should be released soon regarding to where the massive mountain of <"">coal fly ash that spilled on December 22 will be moved, reports KnoxNews. The TVA spill dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of coal sludge in Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and 300 acres surrounding its Kingston plant in Eastern Tennessee.

Volunteer TV/WVLT reported that over 100 residents attended last night’s status update, the second since the spill occurred. According to KnoxNews, among other initiatives, the TVA is preparing a policy in which independent medical professionals will meet with those who filed health claims. KnoxNews also reported that TVA announced it dredged over 7,500 cubic yards of ash from the Emory River since mid-March, with work extending three additional hours daily, effective immediately.

We have long been reporting on the environmental dangers resulting from the TVA spill and how that accident is 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 sites—including the now infamous TVA Kingston site—are subject to federal regulation, inspection, or environmental monitoring, adding that such oversight likely would have prevented the historic TVA fly ash spill.

Numerous studies have 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, 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, reported KnoxNews. Bonnie Swinford an environmental activist with United Mountain Defense said that it is conducting its own testing and feels the TVA should be releasing information on minimum acceptable levels on the tests it conducts said KnoxNews.

TVA said the area nearest the spill should be avoided, but water sports up and downstream are fine, reported Volunteer TV/WVLT; however, others argue the water is not safe anywhere near the spill and heavy metals are present in the affected Emory and Clinch rivers. Although the TVA reports the area is safe, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) stated that “several” water samples revealed metal levels that did not pass the “Tennessee’s Chronic Water Quality Criteria for protecting aquatic life,” reported Volunteer TV/WVLT, saying such metals included aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, and lead; some samples from the Emory River and near the spill failed to pass because of high arsenic levels.

Also, water samples tested with 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.

Meanwhile, the Tennessean is reporting that a Congressional committee is meeting today to learn why the accident occurred and will look at response and implication issues, citing the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. In addition to the TVA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), TDEC, and Duke University representatives will appear, said the Tennessean.

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