Sludge spill Tennessee
Wade Payne/AP
The land surrounding the Kingston fossil
plant where the sludge spill occurred.

Massive Sludge Spill Destroys Homes in Tennessee Town

December 24, 2008 01:52 PM
by Josh Katz
The Tennessee Valley Authority is responding to a coal sludge spill covering up to 400 acres of land, and is investigating potential contamination by toxic pollutants.
A wall at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power plant in Kingston, Tenn., that was holding back the sludge gave way early Monday, spilling about 500 million gallons of waste—“a byproduct of ash from coal combustion”—on the surrounding area, CNN reports.

The avalanche of sludge has damaged 15 homes and forced the evacuation of all residents.

I would say we are trying to contain first and recover second,” TVA President and Chief Executive Tom Kilgore said Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.

The sludge has spread over 400 acres of land, exceeding the area covered from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crash in 1989, according to TVA spokesman Gil Francis. He also indicated that it would take about four to six weeks to clean up the mess.

Preliminary water quality tests in the area reveal that drinking water is fine, and Francis said, “in terms of toxicity, until an analysis comes in, you can’t call [the water supply] toxic.” But CNN says notes that there are videos of dead fish in the tributary’s banks and Chandra Taylor, a staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, suggested that the sludge consists of concentrated substances like mercury, arsenic and benzine. Furthermore, the recent spill is larger than a sludge spill that occurred eight years earlier in Kentucky, where “The water supply for more than 25,000 residents was contaminated, and aquatic life in the area perished,” according to CNN.

Francis said that freezing temperatures, a possible cause of the spill, could have contributed to the death of the fish, AP reports. Six inches of rain also fell in the course of 10 days, which also could have caused the wall to break.

“Kilgore said leaks were repaired in the retention pond walls in 2003 and 2006, and maintenance problems identified in the pond’s last annual review in January were fixed,” AP writes.

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