Environmental disaster in Tennessee

by Mike Gaworecki

December 23, 2008

This is just heartbreaking, outrageous, and downright scary: Early in the morning of Dec. 22nd, there was a massive spill of coal ash in Harriman, TN at the Kingston steam plant. Reportedly, as much as 2.6 million cubic yards, or nearly 500 million gallons, of ash and slurry spilled into a tributary of the Tennessee River when an earthen retaining wall was breached at the Tennesee Valley Authority’s coal-fired plant.

According to one local news account: “Officials say up to 400 acres of land adjacent to the plant are under 4 to 6 feet of material.” A local resident says of the land: "It’s changed forever, I don’t see how this can be brought back." Here’s aerial footage of the affected areas:

Coal ash is highly toxic, containing mercury and other heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Needless to say, the ecosystem of the Tennessee River is in peril, and perhaps will never be the same again. And who knows what this will mean for the people who rely on the Tennessee River – the water supply for Chattanooga, TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky – in the long term. In the short term, this spill has caused 15 homes to be evacuated and another home to be pushed as much as 30 feet onto a roadway, wrecked a train, and sent at least one person to the hospital.

Yet this spill is only a tiny taste of the damage coal causes. Coal burning power plants are the number one emitters of global warming pollution in the country. Global warming threatens America and the world with more frequent and more severe storms, new outbreaks of diseases and crop pests, and massive coastal flooding. The good news is that these disasters are preventable, but only if we complete the switch to truly clean energy like wind and solar power as rapidly as possible. We can’t afford to wait.

Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragic – and avoidable – spill. Hopefully this shows that coal can never be clean, and exposes "Clean Coal" as the sham marketing ploy that it is.

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