TVA Fly Ash Spill Response Report Faults Lack of Protocols

Following the devastating December 22 <"">Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill, attention has been focused on the health hazards of coal ash facilities and emergency response protocols. A lack of the mandatory emergency response protocols adversely affected delivery of critical information and cost the TVA $510,000 for a contractor knowledgeable with appropriate procedures, said, citing a just-released Inspector General’s report. The Inspector General is an independent TVA watchdog.

The catastrophic spill dumped a massive 5.4 million cubic yards—over one billion gallons—of coal sludge into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding its Kingston plant. Now, the Inspector General’s report states that the utility’s key executives—those responsible for emergency response—were unable to speak “emergency response language,” and, instead Googled for universal terms and concepts required in such situations, said KnoxvilleBiz.

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a required under a presidential Homeland Security directive and mandates “universal response protocols and language,” such as “common speech” and not “codes or jargon,” said KnoxvilleBiz. The report stated, “TVA’s lack of familiarity with NIMS terminology and concepts was an obstacle.” The report also noted that the TVA damaged its reputation by its release of “inaccurate and inconsistent information” immediately following the accident, such as massively understating the spill’s size and minimizing the spill’s damage. Citing the report, “The test for TVA press releases should be, ‘Is it the transparent truth?’” quoted KnoxvilleBiz.

According to Roane County’s emergency management director, Howie Rose, key decisions were delayed because of the time it took
TVA to provide meaningful information regarding fly ash and the pond’s structure, causing estimated 12-hour delays over decisions regarding evacuation orders and “health, safety, and environmental concerns,” said KnoxvilleBiz.

Just after the spill, the consultant was brought in to implement NIMS at a cost of over a-half million dollars, said KnoxvilleBiz, noting that the consultant worked from December 25 until January 12, citing the report.

Meanwhile, we recently wrote that the Environment News Service reported there are 44 coal combustion waste sites nationwide that have been identified as a “high hazard” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Interestingly, according to Senator Barbara Boxer, the EPA cannot disclose the location of these hazardous sites, reported the Environmental News Service. Senator Boxer is chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA. Since the spill, the EPA inspected coal combustion sites nationwide, including 44 found to pose a “high hazard,” said the Environmental News Service, explaining that if these coal ash ponds fail, they would pose a threat to nearby residents.

We reported last month that information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was 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.

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