Environmental catastrophe could be worst in southeastern U.S. history
TVA Coal Ash Spill Dec 22 2008
This stunning video portrays the horrifying extent of the coal ash spill in Tennessee that’s now being
ignored by mainstream media.The giant black rafts of debris in the river are chunks of coal ash.
Finally, some 36 hours after the catastrophe, the New York Times has posted a story on its Web site under the headline “Water Supplies Tested After Tennessee Spill.” In the era of the continuous, 24/7 news cycle, news organizations like the Times and CNN couldn’t even manage to keep to the pre-Internet daily cycle, when news broke one day and wound up in the paper the next. With this story, they’ve gone back to the era when it took several days to deliver the news — because it was delivered on horseback.
- James Bruggers’ blog on the catastrophe at the Louisville Courier-Journal, with videos. According to Bruggers, a coal slurry spill in the year 2000 in Martin County, Ky, amounted to 300 million gallons — significantly less that yesterday’s disaster. Until now, it was regarded as the worst environmental disaster in southeastern United States history. “Much of the national media paid little attention, though, because, it seems, it was located in Appalachia,” Bruggers writes. It seems that the same thing may be happening again.
- Clueless at CNN: As of 3:45 p.m., Mountain Time, on Tuesday — the day after the catastrophe — the cable news network was featuring a story on its home page about drivers being rescued from an SUV caught in a flood from a water main break. A little below it was a hot, hot, hot environmental story about, well, “Eco-asphalt.” But absolutely nothing about what may be the worst environmental catastrophe in southeastern U.S. history. But they did manage to squeeze in an article about “shirtless Obama snapped on beach.” You really can’t make this up. If you want this to change, write to CNN and complain. Ask them why they are incapable of covering breaking environmental news. Ask them why they laid off all of their environmental reporters and producers.
- Excellent posting by Brian Angliss at Scholars & Rogues with many links to videos, and other blogs and information.
- “Ash Christmas”: Grist’s take on the catastrophe, with information about radioactivity and coal ash.
- Twitter feed here with excellent links from Amy Gahran.
- Coal ash disaster “puts the lie to clean coal”, by Kevin Grandia at Huffington Post
- “Another risk of coal” from Sierra Club blog
- The Tennessee Valley Authority’s postings on the spill, with an official statement:
Not surprising that they focus on the fact that no one has died, and ignore the potential impact to water supplies, and the poisoning of hundreds of acres of land with mercury and arsenic — a swath of territory that may well have to be declared an EPA Superfund site.
- How Wendy Redal compared the size of this spill to the Exxon-Valdez disaster: This spill consists of more than 500 million gallons of sludge; the Exxon-Valdez tanker dumped 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of oil.
Editor’s note: This is a guest blog by Wendy Redal, a former CEJ staffer and now a freelance writer. Redal has written extensively about the impact of mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Go here for some of that work. If you haven’t heard about the events she describes below, you’re probably not alone. I found no mention of the catastrophe on the Web sites of the New York Times, CNN or Fox News, and a Google News search only turned up stories by local Tennessee media. I’m not surprised that CNN has missed the story, since they laid off all of their science and environmental reporters and producers, leaving them utterly incapable of adequately covering an incident like this. But why the New York Times has been silent is quite a mystery. – Tom Yulsman
By Wendy Redal
Days after I published the final piece in a series on the environmental destruction of mountaintop removal coal mining at Scholars & Rogues, another coal-related catastrophe has struck Appalachia.
Early Monday morning, a major disaster occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal-burning power plant near Harriman, Tenn., along Interstate 40 between Knoxville and Nashville. The earthen dike around a giant retaining pond of coal ash, the toxic waste material left over after the coal is burned, gave way, releasing half a billion gallons of debris laden with mercury, lead and arsenic into tributaries of the Tennessee River. The spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant has compromised the water supply for millions of people living downstream in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. Four hundred acres of land were submerged in wet ash and mud, in some places up to six feet deep.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the spill released 2.6 million cubic yards of slurry, enough to fill almost 800 average-size Olympic swimming pools.
The TVA spill, nearly 50 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, has forced the evacuation of 15 homes. One was ripped from its foundations by the cascade of poison waste, and a man who narrowly escaped the collapse of his home is currently hospitalized. .The spill has killed multitudes of fish that are washing up on the shores of several rivers, whose waters are opaque with oily gray ash.
For local footage of the disaster’s impact in Roane County, go to Knoxville-based WBIR: http://www.wbir.com/video/default.aspx?aid=74330.
And for further detailed coverage, read the article in today’s Tennessean, which is reporting that the disaster could take years to clean up and may become a Superfund site, according to EPA sources:
In 2000, a coal sludge impoundment was breached in Martin County, Kentucky, releasing 300 million gallons of waste, yet this story never received widespread national coverage despite the enormity of the environmental and public health crisis it created. The coal industry and local officials marshaled all their political resources to keep news of the spill contained. The country cannot afford for that to happen again.
Though this event was not part of a mountaintop removal coal mining operation, it is yet more evidence that “clean coal” is a gross misnomer and public deception. It should be enough to cement that awareness, and spur citizens to take every measure possible to hasten a shift to safe and renewable energy sources.