EPS Ep. 6: The toxic legacy of coal ash in Tennessee
Ten years ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston coal plant was the site of one of the worst environmental accidents in U.S. history.
A wall of a retention pond at the plant burst open, spilling over a billion gallons of coal ash into the surrounding river and blanketing the area in up to six feet of gray sludge that included toxins like mercury, arsenic and radium.
A decade on, Kingston continues to operate and the site was the subject of a protracted legal battle over the health impacts on workers. But for TVA and other utilities, the problem of coal ash remains.
"There are thousands of coal ash ponds across the country," Nashville Public Radio reporter Shalina Chatlani told the Electric Power Show. "Before there was a greater focus on coal ash management many of these ponds that were built were unlined."
Chatlani recently visited two of TVA's facilities to illustrate the continuing challenges with the coal combustion byproduct. She told EPS the pollutant affects both the utility and surrounding communities at places like "Ash Island" — the local name for the coal ash facilities at the retired Cumberland plant.
"It's literally a pit that is made of earth, created in the middle of Kentucky reservoir. It's unlined and what that means is because it's made of earth it's porous," she said. "Ash Island is in the middle of this reservoir and there are people there who are still fishing and there's a camp across the river that I went to where thousands of kids have gone to play."
Chatlani also addressed the shifting federal regulatory landscape for coal ash, the operating costs of TVA's coal plants and how different utilities are handling the persistent issue of ash disposal.
-A decade after the Kingston spill, TVA is still figuring out what to do with Tennessee's coal ash, Nashville Public Radio
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