published Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Environmental group touts interactive coal ash map

  • photo
    Staff File Photo by Patrick Smith Remains of a coal ash spill that blanketed more than 300 acres in Harriman, Tenn., surround the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant.

Several environmental groups, including one that got a kickstart with TVA's Kingston ash spill, are offering the public an interactive Web page to track coal ash pollution.

The map shows the location and hazard risks for coal ash sites at 100 power plants throughout the Southeast.

The idea is to help people know where coal ash -- a byproduct of making electricity -- goes after it helps them flip on their light switch.

The effort -- offered at www.southeastcoalash.org -- includes information on the health threats associated with toxic-laden ash from coal-fired power plants, safety ratings of the coal ash impoundments and proposed safeguards.

"The Southeast has almost 450 impoundments holding roughly 118 billion gallons of ash that threatens our waterways and communities," said Sandra Diaz with Appalachian Voices, a North Carolina-based group that was barely 10 years old at the time of Dec. 22, 2008, Kingston ash spill.

The website also is a project of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Southern Environmental Law Center and North Carolina Conservation Network.

The Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still are working to clean up ash from the site where 5.4 million cubic yards of slushy, toxics-laden ash washed over 400 acres of rural residential land and the Emory River. TVA said the earthen dam holding one side of an ash pond had failed. The spill galvanized environmental and anti-coal groups across the nation.

TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said Tuesday that the utility has not had a chance to review the website.

"But TVA is converting to dry ash storage to reduce risks associated with coal ash storage," he said. "Our goal is to make TVA's storage facilities the safest, most modern and most thoroughly inspected in the industry."

Bradley said TVA will convert six wet fly-ash and 11 wet bottom-ash storage processes to dry storage. The utility also plans to retire 18 of its 59 coal-fired units by 2017.

He said all TVA ash ponds already have received structural reinforcement so that the utility no longer has any empoundments that qualify as "high-hazard."

Bradley said TVA has "beneficially reused" more than 29 million tons of coal combustion products in the last decade.

A federal court found TVA liable for the 2008 spill.

TVA is rebuilding the failed Kingston wall again to impound the ash that earthmovers have scooped from the river and land nearby, but last month TVA announced it would dredge no more ash from the Emory and Clinch rivers.

Fearing further dredging might disturb decades-old pollution from Oak Ridge, TVA, EPA and state regulators instead said natural processes would be a better solution for the 500,000 cubic yards of ash estimated to remain along the river bottoms.

TVA has agreed to conduct annual monitoring for 30 years.

Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.

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, ...

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