Friday, October 5, 2012

Coal Ash Spill Ruled Negligent

By: Duane Craig

Hundreds of property owners who have taken the Tennessee Valley Authority to court over the 2008 spill of contaminated sludge near Kingston, Tenn., were pleased with a judge’s opinion that TVA is liable for damages stemming from the spill, according to this report.

Still, many admit they will never recover what they lost and that any settlements will not change the damage that’s been done. The spill released 5 million cubic yards of ash that was being stored in a containment pond. The material contained all the by-products released from the burning of coal, including “arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals.” The sludge flowed into a river and contaminated land all along its course, ultimately making the waterway unsafe for many of the uses residents previously enjoyed. After more than $1.2 billion has been spent on the cleanup, there remains more to do. A half million cubic yards of ash have settled onto the river bottom where it will simply remain, potentially be capped, or be removed.

TVA had claimed there was nothing it could have done to prevent the failure since there were things beyond its ability to control that precipitated the catastrophe. The judge, however, called into question the utility’s handling of the ash, writing that it did not follow its own procedures, policies and practices which caused it to miss the warning signs of impending failure. By not recognizing those signs the utility failed to take actions that could have prevented the disaster.
To date, the utility has purchased 180 of the affected properties and settled 200 other claims. Still, there is a case load involving more than 800 plaintiffs in the court system.

The Environmental Protection Agency published a list of the coal ash surface impoundments that have high hazard ratings. The list is published to help local responders and community officials adequately plan for other such disasters. As of April 2012 the agency had identified 676 places where coal ash is being stored and found 45 of those to be highly hazardous.

States with the heaviest concentrations of these ticking time bombs include Arizona, North Carolina and Ohio. Arizona’s problems are located in Cochise and Joseph City while North Carolina’s problems are more widespread at Spencer, Eden, Terrell, Belmont, Walnut Cove, Arden and Mount Holly. Ohio has potential spills in Brilliant, Cheshire and Waterford. Kentucky also has its share of troubled impoundments including Harrodsburg, Ghent, Louisa and Louisville.

Other states with troubled coal ash impoundments include Montana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and West Virginia.

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