TVA Fly Ash Spill Could Bring Tougher Regulations

In the wake of last month’s <"">Tennessee fly ash spill, the governor of that state is promising more oversight of coal ash retention ponds.  While touring the area around the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant were the spill occurred, Gov. Phil Bredesen said the adoption of tougher regulations for coal waste storage  was long overdue.

The Tennessee fly ash spill occurred  around 1:00 a.m. on December 22 after  a wall holding back 80 acres of sludge from the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in central Tennessee broke.  Though the exact cause of the accident was not known, it was thought that six inches of rain over the previous 10 days and overnight temperatures in the teens contributed to the dam breach.

The TVA said that up to 400 acres of land had been coated by the sludge, making it 48 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The authority now says that  5.4 million cubic yards of potentially toxic fly ash was released from a retention pond. According to the Knoxville News, that’s triple the estimate of  1.7 million cubic yards the TVA released earlier this week. The fly ash spill damaged  15 homes. All the residents were  evacuated, but at least three homes were deemed uninhabitable.

Earlier this week, the TVA warned residents in the area against drinking water from private wells or springs, as tests in the area showed high levels of arsenic.  The TVA has also released an inventory of the toxic compounds that had been deposited into the coal ash retention pond during 2007. These include more than a million pounds of barium compounds, and tens of thousands of pounds of lead, manganese and arsenic compounds.

According to the Associated Press, on Wednesday, Bredesen promised that during the clean up of the spill, Tennessee environmental regulators would be closely watching the TVA.  He also voiced hope that the spill would be a catalyst for change.

“The regulations we operate under now were written in the ’70s; 2009 is a different world in terms of environmental regulation than the 1970s,” Bredesen  said at the time. The Governor  also said the state had started immediate inspections of all other TVA retention ponds and a review of state regulations for the ponds, the Associated Press reported.

State officials are not the only ones asking questions about coal waste regulation.  The Associated Press is also reporting that the U.S. Senate Environment Committee is scheduled to hear testimony next Thursday from TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore, environmental advocates and local officials who responded to the disaster.

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