Coal Ash from Tennessee Spill Shipped to Poor County in Alabama


Photo via NY Times

In yet another controversial development in the case of the Tennessee coal ash spill, the millions of pounds of ash are being shipped from the accident site to a landfill in a poor county in Alabama.The Great Coal Ash Transfer
The New York Times paints a pretty evocative picture of what's going on:

Almost every day, a train pulls into a rail yard in rural Alabama, hauling 8,500 tons of a disaster that occurred 350 miles away to a final resting place, the Arrowhead Landfill here in Perry County, which is very poor and almost 70 percent black.
Which is pretty awful at first glance--a comparatively wealthy community shipping its mess far south for a much poorer one to take care of. But as the Times points out, community leaders in Perry County actually jumped at the chance to tend to the coal ash problem, for purely economic reasons: it's creating 30 jobs in a county that has 17% unemployment, and it's adding $3 million to a county budget that previously had only $4.5 million.

Is the Coal Ash Containment Environmentally Sound?
And then there's this: (from the Times)

Even environmentalists acknowledge that the site, in Perry County, is in many ways ideal. Most of the problems from coal ash, which contains toxins like arsenic and lead that have contaminated the water supply at more than 60 sites nationwide, come from wet, unlined ponds like the one that ruptured in Tennessee. It is far better, environmentalists say, that the ash should go somewhere like Arrowhead, a dry storage site dug into a nearly impermeable bed known as the Selma chalk, some 600 feet above the water table, lined with clay and polymer and equipped with a leachate collection system to suck up any water that filters through the ash and dislodges contaminants.
So it seems like a win-win situation (as much as dealing with millions of yards of toxic ash spill can be anyhow). Perry County gets an economic boost, and the ash spill gets safely tucked away.

Or Does It?
But many residents don't see it that way, and have lingering concerns about water safety, regulations, and a lack of trust with the officials in charge of the operation. They said they "feared equipment failure, flooding, tornadoes or lack of oversight at the landfill, where the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, whose notably lax regulation of coal ash permits most landfills to use it as a cover material for other waste." And opponents of the landfill have noted that there are at least 212 homes within a mile and a half from the landfill.

"I won't feel comfortable," wrote W. Compson Sartain, a columnist for The Perry County Herald, "until I see a delegation from E.P.A. and T.V.A. standing on the courthouse square, each member stirring a heaping spoonful of this coal ash into a glass of Tennessee river water this stuff has already fallen into, and gargling with it."
But it looks like Sartain won't get his demonstration--the great coal ash transfer from Tennessee to Perry County is already well under way.

More on the Tennessee Coal Ash Spill
Aftermath of the TVA Coal Ash Spill: Get Ticketed for Taking Water
100 Days Since the TVA Coal Ash Spill: Where Are We?

Tags: Coal | Pollution | Toxins