New report claims coal ash contamination at every TVA coal plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority on Nov. 7 responded to a critical report released that day by the Environmental Integrity Project about its coal ash disposal practices, saying it takes it commitment seriously to safety, health and the environment.

All wastewater at TVA power generating facilities is treated, processed or managed according to nationally accepted practices and complies with state and federal water quality requirements, the federal utility said. Even rain water is processed.

Water discharge permits for TVA’s power generating facilities set limits designed to protect people, livestock, wildlife, plants and the aquatic habitat of receiving streams or reservoirs. Compliance is TVA’s top priority, the utility said.

TVA said it regularly monitors water quality to assure compliance both at plant discharge outflows and downstream, testing such things as water temperature, water clarity, pH, suspended solids, inorganic substances and metals.

As part of TVA’s commitment to a cleaner environment, the utility said it is retiring older, less-efficient coal plants and converting wet coal ash storage to dry ash storage.

Five years after the billion-gallon coal ash spill at the Kingston plant in Tennessee, the new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) ostensibly shows that decades of mismanagement have led to toxic groundwater pollution at all 11 TVA coal plants, with concentrations of arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese, and other pollutants exceeding health-based guidelines in dozens of down-gradient wells.

“The affected groundwater is now unsafe for human consumption,” EIP said in a Nov. 7 statement. “As it migrates into local surface water, the contamination also threatens aquatic ecosystems. The EIP report, which is based primarily on Freedom of Information Act requests, also shows that TVA is not adequately monitoring much of the groundwater around its ash disposal areas.”

The report also claims that TVA frequently stops monitoring areas that it knows to be contaminated. For example, the report said that TVA installed seven wells around the fly ash and bottom ash ponds at the Paradise plant in western Kentucky in 2010, found high concentrations of several pollutants in 2011, and then stopped monitoring all seven wells. Other areas, including abandoned ash disposal units at the Allen, Bull Run, John Sevier, and Johnsonville plants, have not been monitored at all in recent years, the report claimed.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.