published Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Tennessee: Widows Creek ash may be more toxic than Kingston’s

Gypsum and ash that leaked Friday from a Widows Creek Fossil Plant dump in Alabama could contain even more toxic metals than ash spilled in Kingston, Tenn., just before Christmas, according to an analysis of TVA data in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records.

The gypsum pond that leaked about 10,000 gallons last week near Stevenson, Ala., was contaminated with fly ash, the same substance that spilled in Kingston, Tenn, but an analysis of TVA’s substance releases, reported to the EPA, found the federal utility disposed of more toxic heavy metals at Widows Creek than at Kingston.

In 2006, TVA told EPA it poured 332,000 pounds of arsenic, chromium, lead, nickel, selenium and thallium into the Alabama wet ash pond landfill, while in the same year the agency put 227,200 pounds of those materials into the Kingston wet ash landfill. Over seven years beginning in 2000, the Widows Creek landfill received more than 2.4 million pounds of heavy metals in wet ash, while Kingston received more than 1.7 million pounds, according to TVA reports.

PDF: Ash health study

PDF: Swan Pond ash report

Article: Health report on ash spill disputed

Article: 1 year later: Digging out of the ashes

PDF: Kingston timeline

Article: Coal ash disaster prompts TVA to restructure

Article: Ash spill area residents still angry one year later

PDF: TVA notice of winning performance payments

PDF: Richard Moore testimony

PDF: Tom Kilgore testimony

PDF: Lessons Learned

PDF: TVA Stakeholder Letter

Article: TVA sending ash to 2 sites

PDF: Ash load test letters

PDF: Kingston ash facts

Article: Study links cancer rate, coal ash landfills

Article: Ash cleanup price tag nears $1 billion

PDF: TVA quarterly report

PDF: TVA coal plant emissions

PDF: Tom Kilgore

Article: 100 days later, ash spill questions linger for Tennessee Valley Authority

Article: Kingston ash spill site roads reopening

Article: Chattanooga : Tests show no sign of ash spill

PDF: TVA Corrective Action Plan

Article: Tennessee Valley Authority may end ash ponds in Kingston

Article: Tennessee: Brockovich firm files ash spill lawsuit

Article: Tennessee: Coal ash regulation bill pushed in wake of TVA spill

PDF: TVA ash cleanup plan

Article: Tennessee: Costs mount for Kingston ash cleanup

Article:Tennessee: Kingston ash spill prompts 2nd congressional hearing

PDF: TVA ash cleanup plan

PDF: Ash removal facts

Article:Tennessee Valley Authority to dredge Emory River to remove ash

PDF: TVA executive changes

Article:Tennessee Valley Authority shakes up executive staff

Article: Tennessee: Grassroots ash effort grows Internet roots

Article: Tennessee: Study suggests coal ash spill health risk

PDF: Duke University study

Article: Tennessee: Lawmakers push federal aid for TVA spill cleanup

PDF: TVA Ocoee Plans

Coal ash: What states and plants are putting into pond

Article: Tennessee Valley Authority plan changes Ocoee controls

Article: Tennessee: Decisions on ash spill cleanup still up in air

Article:Video: Residents react one month after spill

Article:Tennessee: Tests show no fly ash toxins in river water

Article: Tennessee: Groups protest TVA ash spills

Article: Tennessee: Polk votes to post warnings on Ocoee

PDF: Polk County Commission resolution

Article:Tennessee: More scrubbers ordered for Widows Creek plant

PDF: federal court order

Video: TVA spill prompts local water testing

PDF: Bredesen Announces Order Formalizing Cleanup and Compliance Proceeds

PDF: TVA Ocoee Dam

PDF: Order issued

Article: Tennessee: Widows Creek ash may be more toxic than Kingston’s

Article: Tennessee: Costly spill cleanup spurs debate over who pays

Article: Tennessee: Groups urge more regulations on coal ash

Article: Tennessee: Early warnings on ash pond leaks

Article: Tennessee: Environmental groups prepare to sue TVA

Article: Tennessee: Early warnings on ash pond leaks

Article:Tennessee: Brockovich aids ash victims

Article:Tennessee: Senate panel blasts TVA over Kingston ash spill

PDF: Kingston Senate Hearing Testmony

Article: Tennessee: Groups urge more regulations on coal ash

PDF: NASA satellite photo

Article: Kingston: TVA watchdog to review Kingston ash spill

Article:Lawsuit planned against TVA over Kingston coal ash spill

Article:Corker says ash spill should be 'wake-up call' for state and federal agencies

Article:Kingston: TVA watchdog to review Kingston ash spill

Article:Lawsuit planned against TVA over Kingston coal ash spill

Article: Kingston cleanup (video)

PDF: 2008 dike inspection report

Article: Early warnings on ash pond leaks

Article: Farmers worried TVA doesn’t understand their concerns

Article: Tennessee: Community awaits answers

Article: Tennessee: Spill cleanup shifts focus away from emissions

Article:Tennessee Valley Authority spill could endanger sturgeon

Article: Tennessee Valley Authority to spread grass seed at Kingston coal ash spill site

PDF: EPA Testing Results

Article: Metal levels at ash spill exceed TVA's measure

Editorial Cartoon: Clean Coal

PDF: TVA incident action plan 01/01/09

PDF: Preliminary TVA Ash Spill Sample Data

Video: Ash spill clean up

Video: Ash spill demolition

Video: Ash spill aftermath

Article: Tennessee-American tests water following Kingston plant spill

Article: Tennessee: Governor says state will toughen oversight on TVA facilities

PDF: Chattanooga_Water_Quality

PDF:Ash spill

Article:Tennessee: Corps to dredge river to clear coal ash spill

Article:Tennessee: Questions persists on spill

PDF: Berke TVA Spill

PDF: Wamp Statement on Kingston

PDF: EPA Statement on Ash Release

Article:Tennessee Valley Authority vows to clean up spill,

Article:Tennessee Valley Authority boosts estimate from coal ash spill

Article: First tests show water safe after ash deluge

Article: Cleanup begins in wake of ash pond flood

Article: Tennessee: Cleanup begins in wake of ash pond flood

Article: TVA dike bursts in Tennessee, flooding 8-10 homes

While the Widows Creek containment pond that leaked Friday primarily holds gypsum, a nontoxic byproduct of coal burning, it also contained enough fly ash that the material could not be sold for wallboard manufacturing as TVA does at other plants, TVA spokesman John Moulton confirmed Monday.

TVA still sells some of the gypsum and fly ash from Widows Creek to Signal Mountain Cement Co. in Chattanooga, he said.

The fly ash addition to the gypsum pond is the result of TVA’s decision in 1992 not to repair a faulty air pollution control device used to remove ash from a boiler at Widows Creek. Instead, TVA relied upon a scrubber installed on the unit to capture both fly ash and airborne sulfur dioxide emissions, according to TVA and EPA records. While the scrubber helped TVA limit air pollution from Widows Creek, some of the fly ash not caught by the scrubber ended up in retention ponds.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management estimates about 10,000 gallons of the ash-tainted gypsum spilled out of a retention pond at Widows Creek, eventually winding up in the Tennessee River. The cap on a pipe leading out of the gypsum pond was not sealed, officials said.

At 1.1 billion gallons, the Tennessee spill was far larger than Widows Creek. But Eric Schaeffer, director of Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of former EPA enforcement attorneys, said the second accident puts a spotlight on what he already had called under-regulated coal dump sites.

“We can no longer afford to ignore this problem and we certainly can’t be content to just sit around and wait for the next Tennessee-style disaster to happen,” Mr. Schaeffer said in a statement.

TVA, however, has said the newest spill poses no danger, and on Monday, the utility released water test data showing there were no metals above drinking water standards in samples taken Friday from the Tennessee River downstream from the spill at Widows Creek.

“The samples taken on the Tennessee River meet primary drinking water standards for metals,” states a Tennessee Valley Authority news release. “Downstream samples were consistent with upstream samples from the TVA facility.”

One sample was taken about 1,000 yards upstream from the mouth of Widows Creek and another about 1,000 yards downstream. A third sample was taken in the gypsum pond on TVA property.

A sediment sample also was taken from the bank between the pond and Widows Creek. Data from the solid material were well below levels considered hazardous, TVA officials said.

EPA officials have said hazardous and non-hazardous classifications for solids such as sludge is a determination intended to help regulators place materials in the correct kind of landfill. Calling the material nonhazardous does not mean it is not a human health concern, they said.

TVA and EPA continue to sample the water around Widows Creek independently, TVA officials said.

UT offers to help

Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee will present a proposal today to the TVA, offering help with environmental testing and engineering analysis for the cleanup of the spill at the Kingston plant.

UT Executive Vice President David Milhorn said Monday that UT faculty in Knoxville “have a lot of expertise with water issues and river cleanup projects” and could provide an authoritative, independent assessment of alternatives for the ash cleanup in Roane County just west of Knoxville.

“We have the expertise to evaluate the site and help TVA plan some long-term studies to assess any long-term environmental effects that might occur around the spill site,” Dr. Milhorn said. “TVA contacted us and we are now putting together a written proposal to them, spelling out what we can do to help as an independent, third party.”

UT professors Randy Gentry, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Gary Saylor, founding director of the UT Center for Environmental Biotechnology who previously worked on the Chattanooga Creek cleanup, are preparing the proposal for both TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to consider, officials said.

TVA spokesman Gil Francis said the utility is studying “a variety of alternatives” to clean up the fly ash and muck that spilled over about 300 acres of Roane County last month when an ash pond ruptured. The spill is expected to take months to clean up fully and to repair damaged homes and properties.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
mander said...

My colleague and I visited Widows Creek the day the dam ruptured and the day after. We took several water samples from points upstream and downstream of the dam, as well as photographs of the creek and the surrounding area. We work with the non-profit United Mountain Defense.

Our reports as well as those from volunteers in Kingston, TN may be found at and our photographs from Widows Creek are here:

Thank you for this story, Amanda Cagle

January 13, 2009 at 12:11 p.m.
please login to post a comment

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.