Scary Aquatic Pollution Bill Almost Passes in Tennessee and This May Only Be Round 1

River image

photo: J. Novak

A close call in the Tennessee legislature last week would have meant the release of more selenium into Tennessee streams. This scary bit of legislation was stridently attacked by Rep. Mike McDonald who said the measure was intended to help Knoxville-based National Coal Co. out of a pending lawsuit that centered around repeated selenium releases that were in violation of current law. Sound fishy? It should.A bill legalizing the release of dangerous levels of selenium into Tennessee streams fell one vote short of passage last week. The 49-41 vote, just shy of the 50 needed for approval, came after more than two hours of debate. The bill could potentially help big coal out of a lawsuit which accused them of discharging dangerous levels of selenium on numerous different occassions. Aquatic life narrowly won this round of battles but it's unclear whether the bill will come up for a vote again.

The state's current standard is 5 parts per million and this bill would have called for the state Water Quality Control Board to set the standard at 7.9 parts per million. According to McDonald, scientific research indicates that the 7.9 level is 13 times greater than recommended for protection of aquatic life. Further scientific research claimed that 85 percent of fish in a stream with that level of the naturally occurring mineral would die. That‘s right, 85 percent.

"This would legislatively mandate an increase in toxic selenium levels, something we have never done before with any toxic substance, ever," McDonald said.

This comes on the heels of one of the largest environmental distasters on record in Tennessee. Matthew wrote that 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train. Even though the spill hit way back in December, the repercussions keep on piling up--now, the Appalachian Voices has completed a study showing that the nearby Emory River, a source of drinking water, has been contaminated with 260 times the allowable amount of arsenic.

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