TVA Head Admits Spill Worst Than First Said

The head of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Tom Kilgore, admitted that the now-famous <"">fly ash spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge into the Emory River and surrounding land in East Tennessee was much worse that originally presented by the utility authority, reports the Associated Press (AP).

We recently reported that the December spill was not the first accident of its kind at the Fossil Plant.  TVA records showed that a 1984 annual inspection report indicated that an interior dike failed and that exterior walls were not meant for additional loads, the Knoxville Biz said in an earlier report.  At that time, additional studies were recommended; it is unclear if such studies occurred.  Meanwhile the spill—in addition to devastating water and wildlife, damaged a variety of homes, some beyond repair.  Also, in 1984 a dike failure resulted in dredged material spilling into a then-dredged area as a result of a problem with an interior wall.  In 2003, another accident, which dumped water and fly ash on to Swan Pond Road occurred, said Knoxville Biz.

The clean up of the 2008 spill is expected to cost anywhere between $525 million and $825 million—said WBIR.  Kilgore said he will take a pay cut, reducing his 2009 compensation to half, which is still expected to bring him about $1 million.

Most alarming, researchers have found that the massive fly ash spill is exposing area residents and the environment to some serious and dangerous health and environmental outcomes, such as radium and arsenic exposure.  Radium is a Group-A carcinogenic material, according to the Environmental Protection Agency; radium exposure can lead to cancer.  Also, arsenic, a toxic metal, can increase the risk of some cancers, skin damage, and circulatory problems.

Meanwhile, the AP reported that Kilgore admitted that the fly ash spill was much more severe than the TVA originally acknowledged with Kilgore admitting to the AP, “It was a ‘catastrophe.’”  This statement, notes the AP, flies in the face of an earlier description written in a TVA memo in which the sludge fill’s description was changed from “catastrophic” to a “sudden, accidental” release.  When asked about this and a variety of other description changes, Kilgore told the AP, “We all edit things.  I don’t apologize for us editing our material. It is just that the first writer was the best writer, in that case.”

Another change, reported the AP, involved editing to remove the words “risk to public health and risk to the environment” as a reason to measure water quality and the potential of an “acute threat” to fish.  Kilgore admitted that he wished some of the TVA’s responses were expressed differently, said the AP.  When asked about TVA activities associated with the spill, Kilgore said, “Honestly, we let ourselves down in some ways.  This is regrettable.  I don’t like it.  I want to see what the failure investigation shows.  And I am dismayed that we didn’t catch this,” quoted the AP.

The AP also reported that the ash pile in the recent spill took over 50 years to develop and covered 40 acres and was upwards of 60 feet high.

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