Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas, Knoxville

This is from the New York Times:

A day after a spill sent a vast amount of toxic coal sludge over a wide area in Eastern Tennessee, state environmental officials struggled Tuesday trying to assess the damage in hopes that water supplies were not harmed by heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.

A Tennessee Valley Authority employee surveyed a home on Tuesday after the release of sludge from a power plant.

The Tennessee Valley Authority estimated that 1.7 million cubic yards of fly ash, a byproduct of coal incineration that contains the heavy metals, broke through an earthen retention wall at a T.V.A. power plant early Monday morning near Kingston, about 40 miles west of Knoxville. Four to six feet of ash covered 250 to 400 acres in the area.

The sludge damaged a dozen houses, pushing one off its foundation, and caused the evacuation of 22 residences, the authorities said. It flowed into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people downstream. Video news reports showed dead fish lining the banks of a nearby waterway.

Environmentalists said the spill, more than 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, belied the notion of the “clean coal” technology that the industry has spent millions to promote.

The ash came within yards of the home of Deanna Copeland, a customer service worker, and enveloped her dock, she said. Pieces of her neighbor’s house were in her yard. “To see this happen on the week of Christmas, it’s devastating,” Ms. Copeland said. “People are pretty upset. The big question now is, What’s T.V.A. going do to fix things?”

The authority, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency were awaiting the results of soil and water tests, officials said.

A sample taken near the intake for the water supply of Kingston met standards for drinking water, said Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. He said heavy rain and freezing temperatures were probably to blame for the breach.

Jeremy Heidt of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said barriers had been constructed to prevent the ash from reaching the Tennessee River.

The report from the most recent inspection of the retention wall, in October, was not yet complete, but a preliminary report showed that a “wet spot” was found, indicating “a minor leaking issue,” according to a fact sheet released by the authority.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate fly ash as a hazardous waste material but is considering doing so, said Laura Nilles, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! offers the following report:

Parts of Tennessee remain buried under toxic sludge today after a major disaster at a coal plant. A forty-acre pond containing toxic coal ash has collapsed, spilling out millions of gallons of coal ash.

Environmentalists say the spill is more than thirty times larger than the Exxon Valdez, but the story has received little national attention. Greenpeace is calling for a criminal investigation.
(Read More)

Will these stories be more and more common in our quest to go after all the fossil fuels we can with little regard to environmental consequences?