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View Full Version : Sludge Spill in Eastern TN


roberts618
12-25-2008, 12:02 PM
Unless I am missing something, I am surprised to have not seen comments on this major sludge spill. The first I heard of it was on the Wednesday night NBC Nightly News.

Anyone live near there or have a report?

Stonefly
12-25-2008, 12:43 PM
I've also been expecting to see some comments. As I read it, 400 acres flooded up to 6' deep. That's huge. Anyone know where it enters the Clinch?

sb

Rockyraccoon
12-25-2008, 05:39 PM
It is well downstream of the trout fishery in the Norris Tailwater. In fact, it's less than a mile from where the Clinch River enters the TN River.

It's a bad situation nevertheless.

snaildarter
12-26-2008, 01:20 AM
Yes, what a wonderful situation. TVA wants us to know that drinking water is not threatened. Whew! Never mind the hundreds of fish that floated up dead, or the thousands of dead fish that didn't float, or the contaminated fish that will be eaten by pregnant mothers that will produce a few more brain-stunted kids. Never mind that the EPA knows that there are toxic metals in it, including arsenic and mercury, and that the EPA water testing has not yet finished despite TVA's spin doctors already assuring everyone that everything is A-OK! And never mind that the dam was apparently so weak that it couldn't hold 6 inches of rain over 10 days.

Ah, nice clean coal, removed from the finest mountain tops in Tennessee! I guess we should be thankful that some of the mercury was burned out the smokestacks and rained acid on the Smokies' brookies instead of all winding up in the Clinch.

Here are a few links, including a video of a flyover of the affected area. The flyover takes a LOT longer to get from one end to the other than you might think.

Merry Christmas!

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/12/25/america/25sludge.php
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/12/23/tennessee.sludge.spill/index.html?section=cnn_latest
http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation/story/952455.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGmVCABMRRQ&eurl=http://www.alternet.org/environment/115323/

roberts618
12-26-2008, 10:17 AM
The more I think about, I am really surprised that environment groups are not more into this major spill. I have not see or heard anything from any of them. Guess, they got other fish to fry.

It is sad when this happens and there are no consequences for the company responsible and their management. Tells me how weak the environmental laws have become. Unfortunately the new administration will probably not improve them any given all the other problems we are facing.

ttas67
12-26-2008, 11:30 AM
The link below will take you to a bunch of pictures of the damage:

http://www.knoxnews.com/photos/galleries/2008/dec/22/images-tva-pond-breach/

rickytroutbob
12-26-2008, 05:27 PM
Prior to 2000 the Clinton Administration had managed to back the coal guys into the shadows. They passed legislation for "natural gas fired electrical generation" which would eventually end coal burning at U.S. power plants. Of course, the coal guys put a lot of $ into the Bush campaign in hopes of overturning said legislation. Once Bush came into office, the term
"clean coal" was invented. Bush shoved this through congress on the tails of 911 and the highest approval rating ever for a President.

Of course, we all know the rest of the story....

Natural Gas fired technology prevents this from ever happening.

ChemEAngler
12-26-2008, 09:06 PM
Yes, I agree that this is a bad situation for the area and the fishery. Also, it does appear that their is a media blackout on this topic.

However, before everybody starts jumping on the natural gas or syngas bandwagon people need to realize how this will affect everybody. First of all coal is widely available and cheap. Syngas plants (IGCC) take coal and convert it to a gas that can then be burned at much lower particulate and contaminant levels. However, these syngas plants are EXTREMELY expensive. Switching to natural gas plants would drive up the cost of natural gas for residential use. People around here got a shock when they opened their last month's electric bill after TVA raised rates 20%. Imagine how bad things would be if electric rates went up another 20% and home heating rates went up 20 - 40%. Pretty much what is expected to happen if this switch were to occur. America needs a balanced portfolio of power sources: nuclear, coal, gas, hydro, wind, and solar (when the technology catches up).

Travis

Speckleman5
12-26-2008, 09:54 PM
I feel sorry for the people whose homes and property was damaged. Puts a damper on their holiday spirit I am sure.

snaildarter
12-27-2008, 03:16 AM
Travis, you are of course right that coal is cheap, cheap, cheap, and that most people are only concerned with the costs of things now, now, now.

Coal would be much more expensive if you made it pay for health, property, commercial, and environmental damages. We could probably both dig up numerous figures, some of them controversial. But a fairly direct and less controversial figure is that coal adds about 6 cents/kWh in health costs alone. Something to think about when Knoxville is competing for top spot in worst air quality in the nation again, and your kid has to go to the doctor again for his asthma. That Harriman plant is a big reason for Knoxville's bad air quality.

Environmentalists claim that many other forms of energy are already cheaper once you factor in all the externalities. Maybe or maybe not. I personally just hate coal. I'd rather see a mountain covered in oil wells than to see it torn down and dumped into the stream in the valley next to it. Oil wells can eventually come down, but that mountain and stream are gone forever. Nuclear waste can be buried under some mountain out West. ANY source of energy we can get is better than coal. There is nothing worse.

I think this failure to really consider all the costs of coal is kinda like most people buy their cell phones. A subsidized cell phone seems like a great deal right now at $50, but it looks a lot worse when you get locked into that 2-year contract for $80 a month. Or maybe it's more like Social Security, where we get the benefits now, but charge it to our kids and grand kids. Or maybe it's more like Medicare, for the same reasons. Or maybe it's like our current economic crisis, caused by a massive expansion of bad credit. These things are all great up front, but then long-term reality sets in.

In any event, this current Harriman disaster was brought on by the desire to do the job the cheapest way that TVA could get away with. I'm sure some TVA engineering group was well rewarded for showing how cheaply they could store that ash behind some cheap earthen dam. Again, cheap right now, but not cheap once the odds finally mature.

THIS JUST IN: I just read that the spill is now twice as large as they thought it was.

kytroutman
12-27-2008, 10:20 AM
The low cost of coal is what provides the low cost electricity for our computers and internet access. Blue gem coal (from E TN and SE KY) is used in the production of semi-conductors used in our computers. While this is a terrible environmental tragedy, it will be monitored and it will be cleaned up. Without the use of coal and the resulting low cost electricity, much of the economy in the south and southeastern US would be non-existent. Just my two cents worth and no, I don't work in coal or TVA.

roberts618
12-27-2008, 10:47 AM
Since almost all power plants that I can think of are built near a river or a source of moving water, I wonder how many other time bomb dams are out there like this one?

Given that Congress is on break and theie are only minor elections next year, we probably won't hear from anyone in the political world regarding this. Has anyone heard anything from Al Gore on this one?

I also wonder how this would have been received / covered if it occurred on a cold-water river resource and these were dead trout in the photos?

roberts618
12-27-2008, 10:55 AM
First two paragraphs from NY Times article on the spill--

A coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee that experts were already calling the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States is more than three times larger than initially estimated, according to an updated survey by the Tennessee Valley Authority.


Officials at the TVA initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond at Kingston Fossil Plant, about 40 miles west of Knoxville, gave way on Monday. But on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres 1 foot deep.

http://www.kentucky.com/181/story/638848.html

kytroutman
12-27-2008, 10:59 AM
"I also wonder how this would have been received / covered if it occurred on a cold-water river resource and these were dead trout in the photos?" The power plants I have seen in ID, WY and MT are not directly on the water sources, but the power companies have constructed channels from the main source of water to their power plants. This could be the reason they have not had the problems like the most recent occurrence.

snaildarter
12-27-2008, 01:29 PM
The low cost of coal is what provides the low cost electricity for our computers and internet access. Blue gem coal (from E TN and SE KY) is used in the production of semi-conductors used in our computers. While this is a terrible environmental tragedy, it will be monitored and it will be cleaned up. Without the use of coal and the resulting low cost electricity, much of the economy in the south and southeastern US would be non-existent. Just my two cents worth and no, I don't work in coal or TVA.

I think there is truth to what you say. But other economies in other states get by fine without coal. And the amount of coal used in the production of semiconductors is quite negligible when compared with the amounts used in power generation.

As we lose blue collar jobs to poor people overseas (Chinese) the pressure to race to the bottom will continue. Some folks around here will claim our environmental restrictions are already too strong (which is why Bush fought hard to roll back decades-old environmental restrictions on coal plants), and then claim that we'll need to mirror the Chinese with their nearly absent environmental laws, so we can be just like them.

This controversy comes from 2 opposing world views. Your view can be that we should push economic growth as fast as possible and to heck with the consequences (China), or you can have a slow growth economy, but with a healthier and happier people (Europe). America is somewhere between those, which is good enough I guess. I'd prefer that we spend more money on clean things, and less on our McMansions and Hummers.

kytroutman
12-27-2008, 01:42 PM
snail, what most people don't know, the power generated in coal producing states does not supply just those states. Eastern MT for example, provides the electricity to the Pacific NW to the upper Mississippi basin and south to TX. TVA power directly supplies the majority of the South and is resold on the grid to parts of the northeast. PA supplies OH to DC and the rest of the northeast.

snaildarter
12-27-2008, 01:46 PM
From Robert's article, I see that the spill has morphed from simply the largest of its kind to three times what we used to think was the largest of its kind.

And I also read that there is plenty of lead and thallium in the water. But again, those are filtered out of the drinking water, so it's just the animals, plants, and soils that have to absorb that gunk.

From the article, "Neither the TVA nor the EPA has released the results of tests of soil or the ash itself." How surprising. Need to wait for the public furor (what little there has been) to die down for a few weeks before releasing that data, I guess.

Also from the article:
---
Some nearby residents said that the TVA had done little to address their concerns.
"We're terribly frustrated," said Donald Smith, 58, a laboratory facilities manager who lives in the area. "It seems like TVA is just throwing darts at the problem, and they don't have a clue how to really fix it. It was nice that they came by to talk to us. They're making an effort. But what upsets me is they didn't have a plan in place. Why hadn't anybody thought, 'What happens if this thing bursts?' "
Residents said they were stunned by the new figures for the size of the spill.
"That's scary to know that they can be off by that much," said Angela Spurgeon, whose dock and yard are swamped with ash.
TVA officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, saying the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time.
---

snaildarter
12-27-2008, 01:59 PM
snail, what most people don't know, the power generated in coal producing states does not supply just those states. Eastern MT for example, provides the electricity to the Pacific NW to the upper Mississippi basin and south to TX. TVA power directly supplies the majority of the South and is resold on the grid to parts of the northeast. PA supplies OH to DC and the rest of the northeast.

Yes, you are right. About half of all power produced in America comes from coal. Along with 59% of total U.S. sulfur dioxide pollution (acid rain), 18% of total nitrogen oxides, 50% of total particle pollution, 40% of carbon dioxide pollution. As well as the largest mercury polluter and the largest overall air polluter generally.

The bottom line is always money, right now (not even money long-term, which again, makes coal look a lot uglier). If we Americans, the richest people in the history of the world, don't find good enough reasons to do something about coal now, then we never will. We will always find excuses to use the cheapest, dirtiest energy no matter how rich we get.

Flat Fly n
12-28-2008, 08:12 PM
SnailDarter,
With a name like that I can't resist.......don't worry, TVA will gladly give those folks $263 per acre of the land they lost, just like they did when they stole the Tellico area. Maybe not, now they don't have Jimmy C. to overturn the Wild and Scenic River Act in order to do it!

Where is Al Gore when you need him most, and in his own state!? Oh, I forgot he's not running for president..

On a serious note. I have been down at the KSP fishing when the coal cars come in, an move at 3mph dumping coal to burn. It is amazing. There are two sides to this story. Cheap, toxic source that does destroy mountains, rivers, and truly only kills out generations of the workers either immediately or through long term diseases. However, with this country fuel/energy starved, coal is cheap. TVA only generates 20% hydro, and the rest is mostly coal with some nuclear thrown in. I agreed with McCain on this one.....if the French can go mostly nuclear and do it safely, why can't we?

flyman
12-29-2008, 02:56 AM
I feel sorry for the people whose homes and property was damaged. Puts a damper on their holiday spirit I am sure.


Good point Speckleman! I think we sometimes tend to look at these types of events from nothing more than the environmental impact they have. I'm sure some of these people lost everything they had. Does anyone know if some type of fund has been set up for the victims? Very sad any time of year :frown:

roberts618
12-30-2008, 10:44 AM
Tenn. well water might be unsafe



By Kristin M. Hall - Associated Press



KINGSTON, Tenn. Some water samples near a massive spill of coal ash in eastern Tennessee are showing high levels of arsenic, and state and federal officials on Monday cautioned residents who use private wells or springs to stop drinking the water.

http://www.kentucky.com/181/story/641380.html

cdu1961
12-30-2008, 02:39 PM
i live in the affected area. it is my prime bass fishing river. caught my first bass on my first self tied clouser minnow in that river .it is the worst thing i have ever seen.it is so sad.i am afraid it will never be the same again.

snaildarter
01-13-2009, 10:04 PM
There has been a lot more wonderful news about this situation since anyone last posted on it. Here's a rundown:

1) The spill has gone from being by far the biggest of it's kind, to being twice that, to now being 3 times that.
http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/4536
2) The ash is still killing fish now, and is going to continue killing fish for a while. From the article below: "But the ash is now killing fish. Catfish and black bass caught this week in the Clinch and Emory rivers within a mile of the Kingston plant were found to have gills 'completely coated in ash,' according to Dan Hicks, spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency... 'These fish are stressed and we know that a stressed fish is usually a dead fish,' he said."
http://www.jg-tc.com/articles/2009/01/13/ap/us/d95mhop82.txt
and
http://www.volunteertv.com/home/headlines/37530334.html
3) The TVA decided to have itself another nice ash spill in Alabama, and to get fined for it, and to clean it up:
http://www.al.com/news/huntsvilletimes/local.ssf?/base/news/123184176128430.xml&coll=1
4) "The Tennessee Valley Authority's inspector general reported last year that agency managers have put business interests above regulatory compliance, a condition that one TVA critic says damages its culture at a time when TVA executives are collecting big bonuses." Well, it's nice to know that someone has been doing well since the stock market crash.
http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/jan/04/report-raises-questions-of-ethics/
5) Roan County put up a huge page with a ton of info on the spill to help some of those who are affected by it.
http://www.roanegov.org/id16.html
6) TVA didn't even know how much waste was in there because since this kind of waste is unregulated, they didn't worry about tracking it:
http://www.istockanalyst.com/article/viewiStockNews/articleid/2923578
7) The amount of ash spilled is over 100 times the amount of oil spilled out of the Exxon Valdez. The lawsuits are a comin'.
http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2009/01/tva-handling-coal-ash-litigation-for-now.html
8 ) The poor folks caught in the middle of this disaster with their lost homes and damaged property are getting scammed too:
http://www.volunteertv.com/news/headlines/37483444.html#
9) Those same poor folks have got a lot to worry about, for a long time:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-tva_for_thurjan01,0,1643448.story
10) The good time continues. After all that's happened, TVA deliberately dumped a bunch more sludge into the Ocoee causing a fish kill. Government agencies have already cited them, demanded another cleanup, and are testing the water for pollutants like PCB's and heavy metals. From the article: "The black and foul-smelling sludge 'overwhelmed the river and the Olympic whitewater area of the Ocoee in some places more than three feet deep.'" Also from the article, "'Fish were killed and washed downstream or killed and buried in the mud/sludge/ooze... No live fish were seen." Looks like those folks foolish enough to have hope that the Ocoee may ever be a healthy river again should think hard about the powerful forces they are up against.
http://timesfreepress.com/news/2009/jan/10/tennessee-state-cites-tva-ocoee-sludge-release-oly/?local
11) In case you are worried about the harm caused to TVA's executives, put your mind at ease. While the taxpayers, already suffering in this bad economy, will be paying for this cleanup which has already cost many millions and will eventually cost much more than that, the TVA execs still received their 6-figure bonuses this year. So one can only say, "Well done, TVA execs! Well done."
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28393625/

There is so much to this tragedy, but I guess I'll quit writing now.