2.6 Million Cubic Yards of Toxic Coal Ash Slurry Released in Tennessee Dike Burst

(Scientific American) The residue of millions of tons of coal burning at Kingston Fossil power plant in the Watts Bar Reservoir in Tennessee burst the bounds of the pond in which it was contained, burying as many as 400 acres of land in up to six feet of sludge. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns the coal-fired power plant—first operated in 1955—announced that 15 homes were buried and no injuries were reported.  A combination of rains and accumulating sludge likely contributed to the disaster—one of two major ash pond collapses in the past decade. All told, about 2.6 million cubic yards of so-called coal ash slurry escaped, the TVA says. The collapsed pond is one of three on the site.

“We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide,” said Tom Kilgore, TVA president and CEO in an official statement today.

Such slurry worries environmentalists and public health activists because it is the residue of coal burning. The burning concentrates the impurities in the coal, including arsenic, lead and mercury, among many other potentially toxic contaminants. Coal ash is also radioactive.

Toxic Sludge Got Into Tributary of Chattanooga Water Supply

(TreeHugger) An environmental disaster of epic proportions just happened in Tennessee. Monday night 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.

Apart from the immediate physical damage, the issue is what toxic substances are in that sludge: Mercury, arsenic, lead, beryllium, cadmium. Though officials said the amounts of these poisons in the sludge could not be determined on Monday, they could (at the mild end) irritate skin or trigger allergies or (longer term) cause cancer or neurological problems.

Arial Footage of Spill (YouTube via Knoxville News Sentinel)

Mystech: So tell me again how we should be focusing our energy future on more coal power plants and mountain-top removal mining.

UPDATE: Two environmental activists detained by police at ash spill site