Last month coal ash from a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant flooded parts of eastern Tennessee. An official, Tom Kilgore, from the coal-burning power plant testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thursday and admitted that the plant’s containment ponds had not been adequately repaired after previous leaks.
The inadequate repairs along with heavy rains may have lead to the dike-break on Dec. 22 at the Kingston Fossil Plant, which released 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge. The sludge covered hundreds of acres in rural neighborhoods and contaminated the Emory River compromising the drinking water supply.
No one was injured but coal ash contains heavy metals such as, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury. In large amounts, these metals have been linked to cancers, respiratory diseases, nervous system disorders and reproductive damage.
Kilgore said TVA is willing to buy the affected properties from residents and possibly sell them back after the clean up. But some view this as a larger environmental issue.
The New York Times reported that Senate Committee Chairwoman, Barbara Boxer, of California, passed around a large Mason jar of sludge from the spill at the committee hearing. She said the spill showed the need for strict regulations of fly ash and closer oversight of the TVA.
“The federal government has the power to regulate these wastes, and inaction has allowed this enormous volume of toxic material to go largely unregulated,” Boxer said.
Boxer has pushed for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare coal ash a hazardous waste and create national standards for its storage.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee agreed.
“TVA needs to do more, the state needs to do more and it may be that the federal government through the EPA needs to do more,” Alexander said.
According to the New York Times, more than 1,300 dumps in the United States contain billions of gallons of fly ash, leaving legislators worried about the possibility of another major spill.