Report: TVA coal plants polluting groundwater


The Tennessee Valley Authority has polluted groundwater supplies around all its coal-fired power plants, including ones near Gallatin and Clarksville, a national environmental group concluded in a newly released report. The report, released last week by the Environmental Integrity Project in anticipation of December's fifth anniversary of a massive coal ash spill in Kingston, found that TVA's pollution problems extend far beyond the damage done by that environmental disaster. It said TVA could be doing more to protect drinking water supplies. "As we come up on the fifth anniversary of the Kingston spill, we were disappointed to find evidence of really pretty serious groundwater contamination at all of TVA's 11 coal plants," Environmental Integrity Project Director Eric Schaeffer said. The Washington-based group, founded by former EPA attorneys, based its report on data it obtained from TVA monitoring wells. TVA released a statement that did not challenge the report's findings but said it was moving aggressively to prevent future damage to water supplies from coal ash. The toxic pollutants identified in the report include arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese and sulfate. All are byproducts of burning coal and storing coal ash waste in ponds or landfills surrounding TVA's 11 power plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. Those pollutants pose serious health concerns. The 2008 Kingston coal ash spill was caused when a dike broke, spilling 5.4million cubic yards of coal ash into local waterways and more than 300 acres of land. The new report echoes the findings in a 2011 investigation by TVA's Office of Inspector General. That report found groundwater contamination from coal ash at Gallatin and eight other TVA coal-fired power plants. "The records show patchwork monitoring, and no real effort to contain the damage at these sites," Schaeffer said in a conference call. "TVA needs a comprehensive plan to monitor and clean up the groundwater contamination caused by years of slipshod disposal practices." TVA said it has demonstrated its commitment to a cleaner environment by retiring older, less efficient fossil plants and converting wet ash storage to dry ash storage. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the agency is committed to converting all of its remaining coal ash waste sites to dry storage, a move that would reduce the amount of pollutants that could leak into groundwater. "Kingston was the first where that process was completed," Brooks responded by email. "We are working on the others over the next decade, keeping in mind that decisions are still being made on the future of some of these facilities." The Environmental Integrity Project said moving to dry storage is a step in the right direction. The group ultimately wants TVA to accelerate its efforts to move away from coal as a power source. TVA has done a lot of good things for the Midsouth, Schaeffer said.



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