After a period of heavy rain, on Dec. 22 an earthen dike at a coal-fired electric plant failed, releasing thousands of pounds of ash and other plant byproducts, flooding more than 300 acres in East Tennessee. According to a story in the New York Times, the plant produced more than 2.2 million pounds of toxic materials each year. It is estimated that more than a billion gallons of coal fly ash was spilled. This is one of the largest spills of its kind in the United States, and poses an environmental disaster.
The Kingston Fossil Plant is a T.V.A. plant located 40 miles west of Knoxville. Initially, authorities from the plant denied that the spill is toxic, despite the fact that coal ash resulting from this type of energy production contains such metals as arsenic, lead, barium, chromium and manganese. These types of heavy metals have been shown to cause cancer, liver damage, and neurological complications, according to the Times report.
Tests are currently being conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, evaluating water and soil samples near the spill. The agencies also are monitoring air quality in the area. There are concerns toxins could be carried into the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee rivers, affecting fish and other wildlife. There also are worries that toxic substances could remain in riverbeds and sediment along the banks, as well as in the soil affected by the spill.
A report in The Tennessean says high levels of arsenic have been reported in the waterways next to the plant, registering above “safe” levels, according to an EPA report. The newspaper reports two other heavy metals have been found in the water near the plant, although at “acceptable” health levels – lead and thallium.
However, the EPA says it has found no problems in the drinking water for the area, according to the Tennessean. It quotes EPA spokesperson Laura Niles as saying ordinary treatment at drinking water plants would “likely” remove the pollutants.
According to the Times report, the plant supplies electricity for 670,000 households, using 14,000 tons of coal per day. When the earthen dike broke, sludge covered 300 acres and knocked a nearby home off its foundation.
Beasley Allen is currently reviewing claims on behalf of individual property owners affected by the coal ash spill. Contact us today for a free legal consulation.