THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Tenn. ash spill larger than thought

A Tennessee Valley Authority employee surveyed damage caused by the Monday failure of a retention pond. A Tennessee Valley Authority employee surveyed damage caused by the Monday failure of a retention pond. (J. Miles Cary/knoxville news sentinel/Associated Press)
December 27, 2008
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NASHVILLE - A coal ash spill that blanketed residential neighborhoods and contaminated nearby rivers in Roane County, Tenn., earlier this week is more than three times larger than initially estimated, the Tennessee Valley Authority said.

Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, contains toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and selenium that can cause cancer and neurological problems.

Authority officials initially said about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled when the earthen retaining wall of an ash pond breached, but on Thursday they released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres 1 foot deep.

The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

Calls to an Authority spokesman yesterday morning were not immediately returned. Residents were stunned by the new numbers. "That's scary, to know that they can be off by that much," said Angela Spurgeon, whose yard is swamped with ash.

Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the Authority, said Wednesday that the pond had not exceeded its allowable capacity.

The spill occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant, on the banks of the Emory River about 40 miles west of Knoxville. The ash ponds were separated from the river only by earthen walls.

Environmentalists have long maintained that coal ash, which can contaminate groundwater and poison aquatic environments, should be stored in lined landfills.

But hundreds of plants around the country, most near rivers that supply the water they need to operate, have similar ponds and mounds of coal ash on site.

NEW YORK TIMES

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