TVA sending ash to 2 sites

TVA sending ash to 2 sites

May 10th, 2009 by Pam Sohn in News

The Tennessee Valley Authority won't identify where in Georgia and Alabama the coal ash sludge spilled in Kingston, Tenn., is being taken during the utility's two-week disposal test.

"That information is simply not being given out," TVA spokesman Gil Frances said Friday, adding that the sites in Georgia and Alabama are nonhazardous landfills.

Mr. Francis said the locations of the landfills aren't being disclosed because the test will help the utility choose the contractors for disposal work. However, TVA documents and officials in Georgia and Alabama identified the specific municipal waste landfills set to receive the ash.

Derrick Williams, with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's solid waste program, said a landfill in Taylor County near Mauk, Ga., in the middle western portion of the state will receive some ash loads.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management's chief of solid waste, Phillip Davis, said a municipal waste landfill in Perry County in west central Alabama also will receive ash shipments.

The ash waste was stored in what Tennessee classifies as a Class II or industrial waste landfill behind TVA's Kingston Steam plant near Harriman until an earthen berm in the unlined landfill broke just before Christmas. Mr. Francis said the spilled ash now will be taken to Class I municipal garbage landfills.

Georgia and Alabama solid waste officials confirmed his comment Friday afternoon, but they said their landfills are double-lined with both clay and a synthetic barrier material.

Officials with TVA have said the ash sludge is nonhazardous, but regulatory and independent tests have found high levels of toxic substances such as arsenic, selenium and lead in the material and water. Mr. Francis said the utility is complying with state and federal regulations in handling the cleanup and test disposal.

Meanwhile, TVA critics are asking questions amid concerns raised by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showing as much as a one in 50 chance of cancer for residents living near unlined ash sludge landfills and ponds. The EPA's "acceptable" cancer risk level is one in 100,000. The questions include:

n Have TVA officials and state regulators been forthright in characterizing the dangers that ash poses?

n If the ash is dangerous, why is it being disposed of in nonhazardous landfills?

n Has the utility adequately protected residents near the Kingston plant?

In Harriman, Tenn., where 1.1 billion gallons of decades-old coal ash sludge spilled into the Emory River and onto 300 acres of a rural residential area on Dec. 22, resident Sarah McCoin said the cancer threat and disposal information worry her.

"There is a substantial amount of cancer in our area," she said Friday. "It is clear that either top management is hiding information or they are simply ignorant to the true hazards of coal ash."

Chandra Taylor, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, who has been working on the coal ash issue, said the authority is working within regulations "because there are no regulations."

She criticized TVA for not being more forthcoming about its disposal plan.

"In light of the (Kingston) disaster and the toxicity of the waste, it would be prudent to find the best disposal possible," she said. "Storing it in a landfill where there is a double-liner system would be a first step."

Although Mr. Francis said the test landfills are outside Tennessee, the plan presented to the state Department of Environment and Conservation includes two East Tennessee landfills in Athens and Oneida.

The plan's cover letter, however, sought approval only for the Georgia and Alabama sites, according to Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Transporting the wastes anywhere else will require another request and further study, she said.