'60 Minutes' report on ash gets mixed review

'60 Minutes' report on ash gets mixed review

October 5th, 2009 by Pam Sohn in News

A "60 Minutes" report on the Kingston coal ash spill prompted kudos from at least one member of the Harriman, Tenn., community but was found wanting by TVA.

"The '60 Minutes' story was fair and balanced," said Sarah McCoin, a Harriman resident. "It is very obvious the coal-utilizing industry will be facing some very difficult management decisions as '60 Minutes' clearly verbally and visually illustrated the problem mismanagement of coal ash has on the environment and human safety."

But TVA saw the report differently.

"TVA is making steady and significant progress cleaning up the Kingston ash spill," said Tennessee Valley Authority spokeswoman Barbara Martocci of the 300-acre spill caused when a 60-foot wet ash landfill wall ruptured Dec. 22, 2008, and spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of ash into the Emory River and a nearby rural residential community.

Ms. Martocci said state and federal monitoring has found air and drinking water in the area meet government standards, and TVA is providing independent health screening to local residents and complying with regulations to make sure its ash-handling operations are safe as the agency restores the area.

"We provided extensive information on all these efforts to '60 Minutes.' It is unfortunate that '60 Minutes' chose to leave these important facts out of their story," she said.

In the 15-minute CBS report, TVA's Anda Ray, then head of the cleanup, told Leslie Stahl she would swim in the Emory River today. Ms. Stahl told viewers Ms. Ray then recanted, saying she had forgotten about river advisories warning residents not to get in the water.

Ms. Stahl also took Lisa Jackson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to task for EPA's failure to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, though the agency clearly advises that coal ash contains hazardous compounds and materials.

EPA representatives did not respond to requests for comment Sunday evening.

Ms. McCoin, a resident of the Swan Pond community where the spill occurred, said the community worries continue.

"Our concerns are vast, encompassing current and future health risk, environmental destruction, property devaluation and, of course, what TVA will do to make all of us whole," she said.