TVA Raises Alert For Four Coal Waste Sites

We have been covering issues surrounding the catastrophic <"">Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill and have expressed concern over the hazards to people and the environment left in the wake of last year’s spill that dumped a mind-boggling 5.4 million cubic yards—over one billion gallons—of toxic coal sludge into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the TVA Kingston plant.

Now, the TVA has “significantly” increased the “hazard potential” for some of its ash sites under a self-assessment given to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Associated Press (AP) reported.

This March, a few months after the historic spill, the utility claimed all of its active—11—and one retired sites were considered “low” hazard, said the AP; however, the self-assessment states residents who live near four of the so-called “low”-hazard sites could perish if an ash pond were to rupture.

It seems that the TVA wrote the EPA that “in the interest of taking a conservative, self-critical approach,” it reassessed the harm potential as “high” for residents in proximity of Tennessee’s Bull Run and Cumberland plants and Alabama’s Colbert and Widows Creek plants, quoted the AP, which noted it was reporting based on interviews and documents it obtained from the nation’s largest public utility.

The AP pointed out that a “high” hazard ranking—under the U.S. dam safety hazard system—means that, should a disaster occur, economic and environmental damage would also likely occur and “will probably cause loss of human life,” it quoted. Most recently, the EPA released a list of 44 high risk sites located in 10 states and none of these sites is located in Tennessee, said the AP, which noted that—in the case of the TVA—the information was based on an internal rating.

The December spill involved a layer of unstable ash sludge—“slimes”—that went undetected, the “construction of retaining walls on top of the ash,” “saturation of the stored ash,” and “pressure exerted by rising stacks,” according to a prior KnoxNews report, citing a consultant’s findings. TVA engineers who conducted stability analyses on the pond for decades did not detect the six-inch deep slime, noted the consultant. Also, an AECOM report stated the slimes’ “creep failure” and ash liquefaction triggered the spill, said KnoxNews, which explained that internal wall failures occurring over an hour caused the dike blowout that blew 47-foot-high “tsunami of sludge” with ash shooting up over half a mile from the pond’s walls, citing the report. The noxious wave pushed one house from its foundation, destroyed others, annihilated docks, and moved construction equipment, leaving a toxic fiasco in its wake.

Since, attention has been focused on coal ash facility health hazards and emergency response protocols. According to Roane County’s emergency management director, Howie Rose, key decisions were delayed over the time it took the TVA to provide meaningful information that caused estimated 12-hour delays over decisions regarding evacuation orders and “health, safety, and environmental concerns,” said KnoxvilleBiz previously.

We also wrote earlier this year about how information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was allegedly 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.

The AP reported that the TVA provides electricity to approximately nine million consumers via 158 distributors in Tennessee as well as in areas of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.

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