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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 17:36 EDT

Ash Spill Pollutes Water

January 3, 2009

An environmental group found polluted river water near a huge coal ash spill in Tennessee.

Testing found elevated levels of pollutants such as mercury and lead.

“We’re concerned that the water poses a greater risk to residents in the area than has been revealed so far,” said Matt Wasson, a program director at Appalachian Voices. Wasson’s environmental group coordinated the testing of the water with scientists from Appalachian State University.

On December 22nd, an earthen dike collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal-fired power plant.

The event spilled coal ash across 400 acres; the spill extended into a waterway, blocked a road, and ruined three homes.

The environmental group’s tests found higher levels of the pollutants of arsenic, mercury, and lead than reported by the TVA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, arsenic levels from the Kingston power plant canal tested nearly 300 times the allowable limits in drinking water. Also, a sample from two miles downstream revealed arsenic at about 30 times the limit.

“Although these results are preliminary, we want to release them because of the public health concern and because we believe the TVA and EPA aren’t being candid,” said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chair of the Waterkeeper Alliance, in a release.

Wasson complained that the TVA and EPA have not revealed where the tests took place. He believes some could have stemmed upstream from the spill, where heavy contamination would not be expected.

The TVA said preliminary testing at the Kingston water treatment plant has shown levels of metals that are below limits for drinking water. Other tests on rivers near the site showed safe levels.

Wasson warned hunters and fishermen could be at long-term risk from consuming fish and birds from near the spill.

Image Caption: The Kingston Fossil Plant, built and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, viewed from Interstate 40 near Kingston, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Courtesy Brian Stansberry – Wikipedia

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