Ash spill could be ‘worst environmental disaster’ in US

A dam holding back billions of gallons of toxic sludge at a Tennessee power station has burst, leading to what some are calling the worst environmental disaster in American history.

The coal ash sludge from the federally-owned Kingston Fossil Plant was released two weeks ago during the Christmas break, when the wall of a 40-acre holding pond gave way.

Eye witnesses compared the surge of coal waste slurry to a toxic tsunami which devastated the surrounding area.

The wave of waste left a path of destruction, demolishing dozens of riverside homes before reaching the local water courses.

Initial water samples have shown elevated levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and thallium.

Dr Shea Tuberty, associate professor of biology at the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry labs at Appalachian State University where the tests are being carried out told local press: “The ecosystems around Kingston and Harriman are going to be in trouble, the aquatic ones for some time, until nature is able to bury these compounds in the environment.

“I don’t know how long that will take, maybe generations.”

The coal plant is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a publically-owned corporation that provides electricity to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

The state Senator Bob Corker flew over the scene of the disaster and was briefed on the clean-up so far.

“There is no question the ash spill has destroyed many people’s way of life and that the greater community not directly affected by the disaster will still be affected by what has happened here for a long time to come,” he said.

“I get a strong sense from TVA that they want to do all they can to make right what has happened.

“Once we’ve attended to those affected, I want to understand the steps TVA is taking to make sure this sort of incident with fly ash never happens in future.”

He said the accident had been a wake-up call and while it was too early to tell whether it had been caused by negligence or just bad luck, it showed a need for better regulation of waste produced by coal-fired power stations in the US.

Sam Bond

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