Aerial view of TVA spill site
Today is the third anniversary of the massive Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill that dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge into the environment—a spill that was likely preventable. Now, a report shows that other TVA ponds may pose the very same risk.
Organizations that are publicizing the hydro-geological report (Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Tennessee Clean Water Network) said that the failed TVA pond had been built using coal ash as a construction material, and that some of the other existing impoundments were constructed in a similar manner.
Then they explain why that is a problem:
Following the December 2008 Kingston disaster, engineering reports demonstrated that degraded ash inside the Kingston dikes contributed to the catastrophic failure there. When initially used in dike construction, coal ash has properties similar to earthen material. However, when exposed to water over long periods of time the cohesion of ash will degrade, leading to weakened structural integrity of the coal ash pond and possible failure. This is the scenario that occurred at TVA’s Kingston plant.
Josh Galperin of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said, “The dangerous conditions behind the Kingston disaster were not isolated. TVA has constructed other waste ponds using coal ash as a building material. Knowing this, TVA must move quickly to close these coal ash ponds and TDEC needs to make sure the closure is done safely."
After the 2008 spill, county officials had pushed TVA to stop using impoundments to store its coal ash waste, and the company is reportedly in the early stages of transitioning to dry ash storage and closing its wet impoundments. But it may not be moving quickly or carefully enough.
In addition to the discovery that TVA used ash in dike construction, the groups’ investigation further concluded that TVA’s Johnsonville pond closure plan does not fully address this construction problem in order to prevent future disasters.
While the groups have submitted a letter to TDEC requesting that TDEC address these risks, there is no formal process for public input into the TVA pond closure plans, meaning there is no guarantee that TDEC or TVA will consider and respond to public concerns. Allowing TVA and TDEC to privately negotiate plans for dozens of wet ash ponds will not sufficiently safeguard the public interest in safe closure.
“TVA has a long history of building dikes with coal ash, and as we now know from the Kingston disaster, ash is not durable building material,” said Abigail Dillen, Coal Program Director at Earthjustice. “TVA needs to move quickly to safely close down Ash Island and many other ash dumps that are ticking time bombs.”