Ash study shows no harmed health

Ash study shows no harmed health

August 18th, 2010 by Pam Sohn in Health

There were no elevated metals levels found in the blood tests for arsenic, cobalt, and nickel. Some participants had levels above normal for the following components:

* 8.3% for copper

* 3.0% for aluminum

* 0.5% for chromium

* 27% for selenium**

** Repeat tests for selenium after changes in diet and vitamin supplements showed normal or close to normal values for all who were re-tested.

Source: ORAU and Vanderbilt study

HARRIMAN, Tenn. - A health study of 214 residents in 112 households near the Kingston ash spill site is getting a cautious thumbs up from community members.

"I am glad to see that at this time there was no adverse health effects for the ash spill," said Randy Ellis, a member of the ash spill community action group and newly elected Roane County commissioner.

"I would like to request that TVA redo this testing five or 10 years down the road," he said.

The independent study, funded by the Tennessee Valley Authority and released Tuesday, "suggests no expected long-term effects on physical health from current levels of exposure," to the toxics-laden coal ash that spilled 20 months ago when a 50-year-old wet coal ash landfill wall collapsed at the Kingston Fossil Plant.

The Dec. 22, 2008, accident spilled 5.4 million cubic yards - 1.2 billion gallons - of slushy ash onto 300 acres of residential farmland and the Emory River. Wet coal ash is the waste byproduct of making electricity with coal.

Donna Cragle, an author of the health report and the vice president and director of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, said the report is not a research study.

"It was a service to the community because there was so much concern and questions," she said. "And not a lot was known about the impacts of fly ash."

The target group was all residents - nearly 700 households - living within a two-mile radius from the spill site. But residents from only 12 households in the one-mile radius and only 37 in the second mile radius volunteered to be tested for respiratory, metal, kidney and liver impacts, Cragle said.

Because TVA funded the study, many in the community questioned the independence of the work, acknowledged Cragle and Dr. Donna Seger, a physician and associate professor with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center.

"We're recommending that there be more study," Seger said. "There's never been a population like this, so we think there should be further study."

Anda Ray, TVA's senior vice president of environment and technology, said the agency just received the study Tuesday, but would consider the recommendation.

Staff Photo by Patrick Smith United Mountain Defense volunteer Matt Landon prepares to fill another jar with sediment to be tested from the sludge left in the Swan Pond Lake Road community after the TVA coal ash spill on Dec. 22. The United Mountain Defense organization is providing their own testing records to help concerned citizens weary of TVA's information.

"We're still digesting it," she said, adding that the agency is pleased that the study has found no ill health affects.

Craig Zeller, the spill site's remedial project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said EPA also is recommending that the study be continued.

"And we'll be looking at other studies, too - of the fish and aquatic life and animals," he said.

TVA President Tom Kilgore said Tuesday he "was very gratified" by the finding that there were no ill health effects from the ash spill.

But he said TVA will continue to work to monitor and clean up the area from the December 2008 accident.

"After the initial shock of its happening, I think we've done a really good job of getting the river cleaned up and I think the residents in the area were glad to get back in the river this spring," he said.

Most of those living near the spill were bought out by TVA in the ensuing months, said Brenda Timm, head of the Community Advisory Committee that was formed during the spill's aftermath.

Seger and Cragle said the most common symptoms reported by participants were those related to upper airway irritation, including runny nose, cough and congestion.

Twenty-three percent told health workers they had those symptoms before the spill, but 63 percent of the people said they suffered those symptoms only after the spill, Seger said.

"Those conditions were not necessarily present in the participants at the time they were," she said.

The exams occurred months after the spill occurred and government agencies acted to wet down the spilled ash and prevent it from becoming airborne.

The tests for metals did not find elevated levels in the study group, the doctors said, and the abnormalities or variations were deemed in the study to be due to preexisting medical conditions.

Elevated selenium levels were determined to be from supplements, not coal ash, Seger said.