Friday, December 26, 2008
Thirty Years of Republican Rule Boiled Down in To One Picture
December 27, 2008
Coal Ash Spill Is Much Larger Than Initially Estimated
By SHAILA DEWAN Of the New York Times
A coal ash spill that blanketed residential neighborhoods and contaminated nearby rivers in Roane County, Tenn., earlier this week is more than three times larger than initially estimated, the Tennessee Valley Authority said on Thursday.
Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium that can cause cancer and neurological problems.
Authority officials initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond breached, 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 one foot deep. The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the Authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.
Authority officials offered little explanation for the discrepancy, telling reporters that the initial number was an estimate based on their information at the time. The aerial survey was done on Tuesday, but the results were not released until Thursday. Calls to an Authority spokesman on Friday morning were not immediately returned.
Residents were stunned by the new numbers. “That’s scary to know that they can be off by that much,” said Angela Spurgeon, whose yard is swamped with ash. “I don’t think it was intentional, but it upsets me to know that a number was given of what the pond could hold, and the number now is more than double of what the pond actually held.”
Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the Authority, said Wednesday that the pond had not exceeded its allowable capacity.
The spill occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant, one of the authority’s largest electrical generating sites, located on the banks of the Emory River about 40 miles west of Knoxville. The ash ponds were separated from the river only by earthen walls. Environmentalists have long argued that coal ash, which can contaminate groundwater and poison aquatic environments, should be stored in lined landfills. But hundreds of plants around the country, most located near rivers that supply the water they need to operate, have similar ponds and mounds of coal ash on site.
About a dozen homes were directly affected. Some were swamped with mud and another was swept off its foundation. Three have been declared uninhabitable.
The Authority has not yet said what caused the breach, but officials have suggested that unusually heavy rains and freezing temperatures may have been a factor.