Seeking justice at Coal ash hearings in Knoxville

by Robert Gardner

October 27, 2010

RobertToday is the last of eight coal ash hearings held by the EPA throughout the country. As I stand here in beautiful Knoxville, Tennessee, I’m reminded of just how little the EPA has done to remedy the threat of toxic coal ash.

The scope of the problem is enormous.

Each year coal-fired utilities across the United States generate nearly 140 million tons of coal ash. Despite this, there are currently no federal standards in place to regulate the disposal of coal ash.

Coal ash waste contains arsenic, lead, and mercury among other toxic metals. These dangerous, toxic elements cause cancer, organ disease, respiratory illness, neurological damage, and reproductive and developmental problems. According to the EPA, the risk of cancer from living near an ash pond is 1 in 50. This is 2000 times greater than EPA’s acceptable cancer risk.

There are 137 verified sites where coal ash threatens public health and water supplies. These sites are in 34 states throughout the country.

In Logan County, West Virginia 118 people were killed by coal ash. Approximately 132 million gallons rushed through Buffalo Creek Hollow.

Just a few miles from Knoxville, 1.09 billion tons of toxic coal sludge destroyed a 300-acre area in Harriman, Tennessee. The Emory and Clinch rivers are still polluted. This is being ‘cleaned up’ by sending it to a low-income community in Perry County, Alabama. The highest point in Perry County is now an ash impoundment.

You might think that the industry might be a bit humbled by what they’ve done in Tennessee. Not the case. TVA says they are cleaning everything up, don’t worry. They know that their ash ponds are not safe. As such, we question their timing and their commitment to getting the job done.

The Cumberland Steam Plant ash pond, the Gallatin Fossil Plant impoundment, the Johnsonville Fossil Plant ash pond, and the Fayette Power Project impoundment have all been identified as damage cases. All have on-site and off-site water damage. All are accidents waiting to happen.

Bull Run and Cumberland ash ponds are “high hazard,” meaning that failure will result in loss of human life.

Out of sight-out of mind. Right?

We’ve come to Knoxville to tell the EPA to do the right thing and create the federal standards necessary to protect communities and the environment. However, we wanted to express our outrage that the communities affected by Kingston have had no redress.

So we stood in silent protest with the people of Kingston. With large pictures of the spill in every doorway, the coal industry lobbyists had to walk through. The EPA had to walk through. The people of Tennessee had to look.

It is clear that the coal industry will not stop its assault on human health. Whether its backdoor lobbying or old fashioned buying the truth, the coal industry must transition to the clean energy industry.

Take action now to make sure communities are protected from toxic coal ash, just one of the many deadly effects of the coal lifecycle.

— Robert

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