Fly Ash Sludge Toxic Soup

By: Pat Hunter

December 26, 2008


Industrial fly ash generated from coal burning is being disposed in many communities across the country with inadequate safeguards and very little oversight. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed stricter federal controls of coal ash in 2000, but bowed to pressure from special interest including giant utilities, King Coal industry and the federal government.


This is much more than just a few dead fish story, the chemicals from coal generated fly ash may contain hazardous heavy metals and fly ash may pose a danger to health and the environment.


There have been other fly ash spills or landslides but none compare to the environmental ash sludge spill  from the fossil fuel Kingston, Tennessee facility, which has been catapulted to national headlines.


For those of you who have lived in Loudon County for sometime now, who remembers how for years fly ash was dumped in our own community back yard in Matlock Bend close to the river where it could leach out to groundwater and river? Were any of the state or federal agencies (TVA, TDEC or EPA) concerned about this matter; not hardly?


The TVA Power plant in Kingston burns coal and the by product is fly ash. Fly ash is a fine powdery substance, which may be laced with heavy metals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead, which may pose risks to the environment and health. Arsenic is classified as a human carcinogen. Several epidemiological studies conducted in other countries, have reported that chronic ingestion of water that contains arsenic at several hundred parts per billion can increase the risk of cancer in the skin, bladder, kidneys, liver, prostate, and lungs. Fly ash may also irritate skin, trigger allergies and even cause neurological problems.


Initially the spill was said to be 1.7 million cubic feet of fly ash. Then it was revised to 3.1 million cubic feet of fly ash, which was dumped across 400 acres and described as deep as 6 feet after a retention pond collapsed early Monday morning at the TVA Kingston steam plant. The latest report has it as 5.4 million cubic yards of spilled ash.

The spill has closed off a railroad track and road and crews are working round the clock to clean up the spill. The spill moved one house off its foundation and damaged two other homes and property and made its way to the Emory River, which leads to the Clinch River and flows into the Tennessee River, a source of drinking water.

Everyone is asking how this environmental catastrophe could happen here, when TVA upper management make millions in compensation packages for a job well done?

The coal ash spill is said to be many times more massive than the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

What happens when the fly ash starts to dry and becomes air borne is yet another big concern?

What will be the short and long-term effect of this fly ash sludge to drinking water, health, environment and air? When can the public expect some honest answers?



To read and hear of what happened 20-years ago about another environmental disaster with the Exxon Valdez and how it impacted the environment and quality of life, click PBS:

High Court Cuts Damages in Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Almost twenty years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Supreme Court decided Wednesday to reduce victims' compensation in Alaska. Two journalists who have covered the story discuss the decision and how the impact of the accident still lingers in the region.