MONTGOMERY, ALA. – Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., is currently evaluating claims on behalf of property owners affected by a devastating coal ash spill in Tennessee. The disaster spilled thousands of pounds of coal ash and toxic waste across more than 300 acres. The event occurred when an earthen retaining wall at the Kingston Fossil Plant failed, creating one of the largest coal fly ash spills in the United States. The plant is located 40 miles west of Knoxville, Tenn.
Coal-fired power plants produce coal ash and other toxic waste byproducts. The waste contains such heavy metals as arsenic, lead, barium, chromium and manganese, which have been shown to cause cancer, liver damage, and neurological complications. The material is usually stored on site at the energy-production facilities in retention ponds or dams. A failure in the dam’s retaining wall, or an overflow, can result in an environmental disaster contaminating surrounding waterways, soil, and wildlife, and endangering human health and life.
There are coal ash retention ponds at nine locations in Alabama, including six coal-fired steam plants operated by Alabama Power Company. The Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A.), which operates the Tennessee plant that failed, also has two coal-fired plants in north Alabama that have ash retention ponds; and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative has a coal ash pond at Lowman Power Plant in southwest Alabama.
“Given that the Tennessee Valley Authority has similar ponds at its two coal-fired plants in Alabama, we hope that they are making certain that those ponds are sound so that we will not have another tragedy like the one at TVA’s Kingston Steam Plant,” said Rhon Jones, an attorney with Beasley Allen who specializes in Environmental law. “Residents and property owners near all nine coal ash retention ponds in Alabama are counting on these ponds to be safe and secure. No property owner should have to go through the disaster facing those persons in Tennessee near the Kingston Steam Plant.”
According to Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management, all nine coal-fired power plants in Alabama were inspected following the Tennessee disaster, and all passed inspection with no problems. However, there is some debate about how coal ash is stored and regulated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate these types of retention ponds or the materials contained in them. Surprisingly, the EPA does not consider the coal ash hazardous material. There is a great deal of debate over whether state regulations are sufficient to regulate these retention ponds, as evidenced by this most recent disaster. For the greatest protection to the public, we recommend coal ash should be buried in lined landfills rather than retention ponds or dams, to prevent it from leaking out and contaminating waterways, groundwater and soil.