Nearly five years after the Tennessee Valley Authority dumped more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry into the Emory and Clinch rivers at its Kingston Fossil Plant, an environmental group has uncovered evidence of other groundwater pollution at all 11 TVA coal plants.
The Environmental Integrity Project said Thursday that "decades of mismanagement" by TVA left unhealthy residues of arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese, and other pollutants exceeding health-based guidelines in dozens of wells at TVA's coal plants.
The environmental group blasted TVA for not doing enough to monitor chemicals in the groundwater near its coal plants, even after a 2008 rupture of coal ash ponds spilled 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal residue over nearly 300 acres adjacent to the Kingston plant.
"As we approach the five-year anniversary of the nation's worst coal ash spill, TVA ought to be leading the effort to clean up groundwater contamination from its leaking landfills and ponds," said Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA official who heads the Environmental Integrity Project. "Instead, the records show patchwork monitoring, and no real effort to contain the damage at these sites."
But TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said TVA regularly monitors the groundwater at its plants and all of its wastewater, and runoff from its coal plants is treated and processed to comply with state and federal requirements.
"Even rain water is processed," he said.
Following the Kingston coal ash spill, TVA agreed to spend nearly $2 billion to replace all of its coal ash ponds with dry ash storage. TVA also is phasing out operation of some of its oldest coal plants, and will continue to monitor wells at its coal sites.
The Environmental Integrity Project compiled its report from TVA's own tests of groundwater and soil at its plants, which the environmental group obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Abel Russ, an environmental attorney who authored the report, criticized TVA for not testing for all of the toxic substances associated with coal ash and blasted state regulators "for not doing enough to protect the public."
"We were particularly surprised to see that TVA often fails to measure the pollutants most closely associated with coal ash," he said. "Not only are these pollutants unsafe, they also provide early warnings of leakage from ash disposal areas."
Russ said as a federal agency, TVA must release more data on its coal plant sites than other U.S. utilities so he is unsure how TVA compares with other utilities with coal power plants.
TVA data obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project showed concentrations of arsenic at one monitoring well were nearly eight times higher than the Safe Drinking Water Act standard and manganese concentrations at another test site were 700 times above the health advisory for lifetime exposure.
But Mansfield said there is no evidence of unhealthy levels of such toxics outside TVA's property. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which regulates any pollutants from coal plants in the Volunteer State, is still evaluating the environmental report, department spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said Thursday night.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 757-6340.