Wednesday, May 13, 2009

EPA Takes Over Fly Ash Clean Up: Other Ponds Examined

On December 22, 2008, a fly ash retention pond earthen wall collapsed at the Kingston Fossil Plant spilling 1.2 billion gallons [5.4 million cubic yards] of wet coal sludge into the Emory and Clinch Rivers and 300 acres of nearby residential farmland. Waste ash generated at the plant in 2005 alone totaled 408,000 tons.

This week, the U.S. EPA took over cleanup of the Kingston spill under the Superfund law.

But Kingston isn’t the largest coal-waste producer among TVA’s coal plants. It came in fourth. TVA’s plant near Nashville produced 1.6 million tons of waste in 2005, while a Kentucky plant had more than 1 million tons and a plant in Alabama had just under 1 million tons. TVA's utility waste totals amount to less than 5 percent of the nation’s 126.3 million tons of coal waste.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has 11 coal-fired power plants that produce almost 6 million tons a year of coal waste and most of it has been stored in waste ponds or landfills.

State regulatory agencies, including the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, control how utilities dispose of coal ash from power plants, and the wastes have been treated as non-hazardous. In Tennessee, the spill has prompted the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to examine the landfills:

Cumberland Fossil Plant, northwest of Nashville, produced 1.6 million tons of coal waste in 2005. 83 percent of the waste was sold — mostly as gypsum for wallboard — and only 9.6 percent was landfilled. In Kingston, less than 1 percent of the waste was sold.

TVA's Paradise plant in Paradise, Kentucky, produced a little more than 1 million tons of coal waste in 2005 and reported selling 33 percent of it — again mostly gypsum.

The Widows Creek plant in Stevenson, Alabama, reported 955,500 tons of waste, but sold less than 1 percent. Widows Creek also was the site of a coal sludge spill this year, just three weeks after the Kingston spill.

One of the dangers of coal ash is the heavy metal contamination found in it, including: arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury and antimony.

According to published reports, TVA has spent in excess of $68 million in cleanup and $11 million in property acquisitions, to date, with total costs estimated at about $845 million, not including litigation, penalties and settlements. Assignment of the catastrophic spill under the Superfund law could actually protect the TVA from litigation. Although the spill site has not yet been officially added to the Superfund, the EPA move means that the fly ash spill clean up will occur under the auspices of Superfund regulations. The Superfund law—The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)—federally bans legal challenges in such environmental cleanups. An environmental impact statement is required for cleanups under CERCLA. (Chattanooga Times, 5/13/09, NewsInferno, 5/13/09)

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