Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Coal Ash Spill Leads to Arsenic Warnings for Tennessee Wells

Is there really such a thing as "Clean" Coal?
How many more "accidents" do we need to destroy our resources before we see how safe wind and solar energy are?

Coal Ash Spill Leads to Arsenic Warnings for Tennessee Wells

By Alex Nussbaum

Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Water samples near a billion-gallon spill of coal ash in eastern Tennessee have found levels of arsenic and other heavy metals higher than drinking-water standards, prompting a warning against using private wells in the area.

Samples taken at the site of the spill in Harriman, 35 miles southwest of Knoxville, “slightly exceed” the standards for some metals, according to a statement from the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the coal power plant where the Dec. 22 accident occurred. Results from well-water and air tests won’t be known until later this week, the utility said.

The spill at the utility’s Harriman Fossil Plant deluged more than 300 acres of rural Roane County, destroying three homes and damaging 42 other properties. In nearby Kingston, that raised fears of fouled water and air, while 13 families wait to see if their homes can be salvaged, said Carolyn Brewer, finance director for the city of 5,300.

“Some of them are staying with families; some are working with real estate agents, leasing homes, buying homes,” Brewer said in a telephone interview today. “There’s two or three that will just never be able to get back in their homes. They’re just destroyed.”

The sludge-like spill, a mixture of water and residue from burned coal, escaped from a 40-acre holding pond after a retaining wall burst last week. After repeatedly saying the spilled material isn’t toxic, the TVA cautioned residents in its latest statement against touching or stirring up the material.

Samples from the Tennessee River, near the intake for Kingston’s water plant, found no violations of drinking-water standards, and any harmful levels of arsenic likely would be removed by treatment, the TVA said in its statement, issued jointly with state and local authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plant serves about 10,000 people in and around Kingston, Brewer said.

Well Warning

“Water from other sources that are not normally treated, such as private drinking wells or springs, may be contaminated if impacted by the release of the fly ash,” the agencies said in their news release. “These areas should not be used until they have been evaluated.”

Arsenic, a byproduct of coal burning that also occurs naturally, can cause a variety of ills when ingested, including nausea, numbness and partial paralysis, according to the EPA’s Web site. The metal has been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer in some studies, the EPA said.

Authorities are testing air quality in the area and “currently evaluating the potential for health effects,” the agencies said in the TVA’s statement. Anyone who touches soil, sediments or water affected by the spill should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and wash clothes separately from other items, according to the statement.

Generating Units Shut

The Kingston plant, completed in 1955, produces 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to supply 670,000 homes. The authority said today that seven of the plant’s nine generating units had been shut down, calling that a result of reduced demand due to warm temperatures and not the ash spill.

The TVA is a federal corporation that was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress in 1933. The public power company provides electricity to industry and about 9 million people in an area covering 80,000 square miles of the southeastern U.S., according to the TVA’s Web site.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York anussbaum1@bloomberg.net.

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