Monday, May 04, 2009

TVA Ash Spill Seeks Dump Into Smith Mountain, Costs Near $1 Billion

The catastrophic ash spill from TVA's coal ash containment site in East Tennessee continues to see costs rise - estimates for the December 2008 disaster cleanup are topping 1 billion dollars and will take years to resolve. Sadly, Tennessee's federal representatives appear to be content to let the mess and it's cleanup all land on someone else's desk.

As for that cleanup, plans are underway to haul away tons and tons of the debris (180 dump trucks per day) and stash it in a quarry on Smith Mountain in a Cumberland County mining site. But not so fast, says Cumberland County Commissioner Robert Safdie, who penned an editorial in the Crossville Chronicle:

It has been brought to my attention that Crossville Mining Company has asked the Cumberland County Commission to review a proposal to build a hazardous waste dump on Smith Mountain. This proposal will be reviewed by the county commission's environmental committee on Wednesday, May 5, at 4:30 in the small courtroom.

Crossville Mining Company has proposed that they be permitted to dump ash from the Kingston disaster into a quarry in their Cumberland County mining site. Although not made public, my sources have revealed that the county will be paid at least $2 million in "load" fees if the commission approves this. In addition the coal company has promised to improve the road system leading to the quarry. About 180 dump trucks of ash a day will make its way from Kingston to Cumberland County. My sources also tell me that the trucking firm involved in the potential contract is owned by former state Senator Tommy Kilby of Morgan County."
"These questions include, "What else do you plan to put at the site? What levels of radiation are emitted by the ash? What risk is posed by the dust particulates to the residents in the area? How much mercury and arsenic are contained in the waste materials? What is your safety plan for dealing with problems that might occur such as the leaching of contaminants into the county's aquifer? What is the environmental impact on the area? How will road accident and spills be handled?" If approved without the appropriate information, under state law, the county has no repeal options.

Here is my opinion. 1.) We are entitled to a public hearing with ample notification before the county considers this. Announcing that a "land fill" project is up for discussion at Wednesday's environmental committee meeting is an inadequate notification to the community that a hazardous waste dump is being considered and does not constitute a public forum on the issue.

2.) Turning even a part of Cumberland County into a hazardous waste dump defies every action that the county and city have taken to make this community appealing to the tourist industry and retirement community.

3.) The county and city have been striving to bring clean industry into our community to preserve the natural beauty in our area and maintain a clean environment.

4.) I find that this type of development does not provide an economic solution to business and industry growth in Cumberland County; however, it does provide a short term business opportunity for some, but also poses a long term threat to the community.

5.) Our county is quarry rich and if the county approves this proposal, it will not only open the door for TVA, but every federal agency (DOD, DOE, etc.) to solicit quarry owners and the county
commission for the right to use our home as a dumping ground for toxic chemicals and other waste.

Answers to these very pertinent questions need to be answered now, not some years down the line after the dumping has taken place.

Will the office of Mining of Mining Safety be given charge of regulating safety issues here rather than the EPA? The United Mountain Defense Fund has grave concerns there too:

"The Office of Surface Mining does not have the requisite expertise to develop regulations permitting the disposal of dangerous waste in mines. This expertise lies specifically with the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for this purpose and gave EPA the authority to safeguard human health and the environment from the disposal of solid waste.
10 Coal ash is considered a hazardous substance under the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which is also administered by the EPA.

EPA has made no attempt to assess the threat posed by disposal of coal ash in mines, but instead passed the responsibility for regulation to OSM. But EPA cannot under RCRA ignore the disposal of millions of tons of toxic waste in mines. Congress required EPA to prohibit open dumping of solid waste. If OSM permits the dumping of coal ash in mines, it will allow the creation of illegal open dumps. For example, heavy metal pollution at mines in Pennsylvania , West Virginia , and Maryland constitutes illegal open dumping.

Stop OSM from approving disposal of toxic waste in mines before considering the risks to human health and the environment

If OSM insists on proposing a rule on coal combustion waste, it must fully consider the threat posed by disposing of millions of tons of coal ash in mines. EPA’s recent risk assessment on the disposal of coal ash has great bearing on the threat to human health and the environment from the disposal of ash in mines. OSM must consider EPA’s risk assessment, the NAS report, and assess their full implications before proceeding. It is necessary for EPA and OSM to work together to ensure that the disposal of toxic coal ash in mines does not pollute the air and water of coalfield communities with the hazardous chemicals found in the ash." (Full Report here.)

And sometime next month, Federal inspectors will finally start examining the 400 sites nationwide which store coal ash -- as one committee member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, says:

The Kingston spill was caused by regulatory neglect, a lack of government oversight and "irresponsible coal ash practices," said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the subcommittee's chairwoman. The EPA could show some leadership on the issue by regulating coal ash, she said."

SEE ALSO: These two posts via Enclave, 1 and 2.


  1. I am SO GLAD that Clean Coal will save us all from foreign oil and Al Gore being fat!

  2. I'm so glad to see this post, Joe. Too many across this state are far too complacent about the dangers of coal ash. That's just like the Eastman apologizers here in Kingsport. They want to ignore the dangers of the stuff they dump in the air everyday. AND they have a coal gasification plant.
    It's too bad that these people are trying to turn one of the most beautiful places on earth into a toxic waste dump.

  3. Anonymous1:57 AM

    Thanks Joe for keeping up with this Coal Ash mess. I'm still blogging about the TVA Disaster... and yes, it is still a disaster. With the recent rains the coal ash has moved... down river. We are also looking at some dryer weather over the summer and fear the "fly ash" will be flying.
    come view what's going on in my community.... visit me @

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