HuffPo: Arsenic 35 to 300 times drinking water standard after Tenn. coal ash disaster

From Dave Cooper at the Huffington Post:

“Just-released independent water sampling data from the Tennessee coal ash disaster has shown alarmingly high levels of arsenic and seven other heavy metals, including cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and thallium.

“‘I’ve never seen levels this high,’ said Dr. Shea Tuberty, Assistant Professor of Biology at the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Lab at Appalachian State University. ‘These levels would knock out fish reproduction … the ecosystems around Kingston and Harriman are going to be in trouble … maybe for generations.’ …

“Arsenic levels were especially worrisome. ‘From the water samples you gave us, we had anywhere from 35 to 300 times that [EPA] level’ of 10 parts per billion for drinking water, said Tuberty to Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby, who floated a kayak around the ‘ashbergs’ on December 27, five days after the disaster. …

“Meanwhile, the TVA continues to stall and delay releasing their water sampling data. TVA, which continues to refer to the disaster as a mere ‘ash slide,’ states that ‘information regarding air quality and water quality has already been published.’ … TVA does not provide any updated water sampling data on their website.”

Visit the Huffington Post’s story for more and for links to data and other sources.

Thanks to Tatuaje for the comment about this, at Coal slurry for a Tennessee Christmas, where you can read Xpress’ coverage.



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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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7 thoughts on “HuffPo: Arsenic 35 to 300 times drinking water standard after Tenn. coal ash disaster

  1. Oh dear – this isn’t good.

    Yes, I expect this disaster will have some lasting effect on the ‘clean coal’ debate in the Obama-team’s eco-energy strategy.

  2. tatuaje

    Thanks for re-posting that over here, Jeff. It’s one of those stories that has a tendency to kinda slip away….

    In that vein, the article that appeared in The Charlotte Observer on 1/2/09 brings this matter even closer to home.

    Duke Energy’s eight Carolinas coal-fired plants produce 2.2 million tons of ash a year, two-thirds of it dumped into landfills and ponds. Groundwater contamination forced Duke to close one ash landfill this year, the Observer reported in February. The company is installing wells to detect tainted groundwater at its plants.

    Duke, which operates 10 ash basins, and the N.C. Utilities Commission reviewed recent dike inspection reports following the TVA spill. The most recent inspections at Duke’s plants found no imminent instability.

    “We reviewed all inspections to date, and we’re confident in those inspections,” said Duke spokesman Tim Pettit.

    But the reports, reviewed by the Observer, describe potential problems at dikes that are as much as 90 feet high and 3,000 feet long:

    *A “potentially serious seepage issue” at Duke’s Dan River power plant in Rockingham County, near the Virginia line. A 2007 inspection report recommended further investigation of the dike’s stability.

    *A 2005 storm overtopped a dike at the Cliffside plant in Rutherford County, 50 miles west of Charlotte, causing “major distress and erosion.” The dike had to be heightened by a foot.

    More often, the reports recommend monitoring of instruments to detect instability, cutting vegetation and controlling muskrats.

    The state labels coal-ash dikes at Duke’s Marshall, Riverbend, Buck and Dan River plants as “high hazard.” The labels aren’t based on how safe the dams are, but on the amount of environmental damage and financial loss that could result if they failed.

    The Utilities Commission, which regulates Duke, requires independent safety inspections of coal-ash basins every five years. Pettit said Duke voluntarily does annual inspections, although state records show lapses at some plants.

    I, for one, would like to know which plants have lapsed in regarding their annual inspections.

    Anyone have more info about the Utilities Commission?

  3. cwaster

    No surprise, TVA dragging their feet. Did you actually expect them to be open?

  4. Jeff Fobes

    Tatuaje: Yep, the story is circling ever closer. We certainly have our own accumulating coal ash in south Buncombe, thanks to our hunger for electricity. I believe Xpress’ Margaret Williams is looking into this.

    Meanwhile, we’re entering the age of citizen journalism, since the internet made every one of us potential publishers. So, I’m hopeful there are a handful of concerned residents, in the shadow of Progress Energy’s tall stacks, already digging up the coal-ash “dirt” on this one.

    They can post their findings here or elsewhere, and their story will be linked by media and blogs and emails, so that thousands can read it.

  5. Margaret Williams

    A nice rainy Monday morning, which leads me to ponder the coal-ash “release” (as the EPA and TVA call it). I took a glance at the maps showing

    1) where the TVA and EPA tested water, and
    2) where independent activist tested water.

    The TVA and EPA sites were done on the west and south side of the spill, including the Kingston drinking-water intake, which is south. The independent tests were done close to the spill, which happened north of the plant. It reminds me of the early tests done at CTS — not done where the results would be the most damning.

  6. tatuaje

    I took a glance at the maps showing

    1) where the TVA and EPA tested water, and
    2) where independent activist tested water.

    Anyway you can post a composite?

    Thanks Margaret…

  7. Margaret Williams

    A composite? That’s an interesting idea. I’ll see what our artistic & techie people can do.

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