Little Big Stories V: tennessee coal ash disaster

In no particular order, the little stories of 2008 that said a lot.

Well, it’s no longer a ‘little’ story, but it sure seemed to start out as ‘yawn’ news:

Toxic Ash Pond Collapses in Tennessee
By David Biello

COAL WASTE: The coal ash left over after burning in the nine boilers of the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee pictured here is stored in three ponds, one of which collapsed.

The residue of millions of tons of coal burning at Kingston Fossil power plant in the Watts Bar Reservoir in Tennessee burst the bounds of the pond in which it was contained, burying as many as 400 acres of land in up to six feet of sludge. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns the coal-fired power plant—first operated in 1955—announced that 15 homes were buried and no injuries were reported.
A combination of rains and accumulating sludge likely contributed to the disaster—one of two major ash pond collapses in the past decade. All told, about 2.6 million cubic yards of so-called coal ash slurry escaped, the TVA says. The collapsed pond is one of three on the site.

“We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide,” said Tom Kilgore, TVA president and CEO in an official statement today.

Such slurry worries environmentalists and public health activists because it is the residue of coal burning. The burning concentrates the impurities in the coal, including arsenic, lead and mercury, among many other potentially toxic contaminants. Coal ash is also radioactive.

There is no ‘clean’ coal. This is an ancient energy-producing process with current problems that are only barely different than they were 20 or 50 years ago. I had no idea that these pits were still around, and still this big. ‘Clean coal’ people have just been lying all year, this ain’t the future.

Also: there are all sorts of heavy metals in the stuff, which almost surely means that the company will eventually admit that it’s also carcinogenic, which means that those families who lived in houses now in the muck can also probably say ‘goodbye’ to their former homes.

But the company flacks are not telling you that yet, are they? They’re just saying they’ll clean it up as fast as they can. If you had kids, would you return? Exactly.