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On the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash disaster

December 28, 2008

This is not our normal fare, but I would like to ask each of you to learn more about the environmental mess happening in East Tennessee as a result of a lack of regulation, lack of response, and lack of people who give a s**t about what happens to the environment and the people near my home. And it is a health issue, in that the erroneously released waste has already been confirmed to contain lead and thallium. Officials are claiming the levels of mercury and arsenic are acceptable, but I can fit in one pocket how much I trust those “officials.” Harumph.

If you don’t already know, my previous job before being sucked into libraryland was as a non-profit in East Tennessee working on energy policy. You can see my old boss in this video. At the time I worked there, this happened (a coal sludge impoundment broke, and “The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed.”). At the time, people asked if similar ponds around the country were disasters waiting to happen. This, I think, is bigger than that, and later.

The basics: We burn coal for most (70%ish) of our electricity in Tennessee. Turn on a light switch, and you’re burning coal, and some of the resulting waste – coal fly ash – is stored in a pond. Not like a swimming pool with concrete and real barriers that you’re probably picturing, but some earthen pool nonsense. It has a history of issues. It breaks, over Christmas. Something like a billion gallons of waste, strong enough to push a house off its foundation. More waste than the Exxon Valdez, but it’s in East Tennessee. People nationwide barely hear about it. Here, go read more.

Look, it’s not like they didn’t know this could happen. It’s happened before. Just watching the days of spin – “Boil Your Water Even Though You Can’t Boil Away Heavy Metals” Day, “Isolated Incident” Day, and now “Detain (But Don’t Arrest Because Arrested People Have Rights) People Trying to Document This Disaster” Day – it’s utterly predictable because we’ve seen this before. It’s not the least bit surprising, because it’s TVA, and it’s Tennessee, and as Aunt B says, “We should just change our state motto to ‘Unless it’s gay, we’ll tolerate it, even if it kills us.'” Quick, somebody convince Stacey Campfield that coal ash sludge will make you gay.

And a word for Barack Obama – there is no such thing as “clean coal.” Coal, like oil, is a relatively finite resource that releases pollutants when used for energy. We blow the tops off of mountains and irreversibly wreck the local environment, or we send men underground to die. We try to reduce emissions we know are toxic, and end up with ponds of contaminated ash water that nobody bothers to regulate as a hazardous substance. When we worry about asthma, when we worry about the mercury consumed by children and pregnant women, we are worried about burning coal (or would be, if we knew enough). Clean coal is a myth.

Anyway, the real point of this post is to point you to places and people covering this mess.
RoaneViews – Progressive blog network that is local to the disaster. Excellent coverage.

Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill – Wikipedia entry with frequent additions

Real-time Twitter results for #coalash

Image gallery from the News-Sentinel (Knoxville paper). Keep in mind that while it looks like water, it certainly isn’t just water.

Blogs on the disaster – Life on Swan Pond After TVA and TVA Coal is Killing Tennessee

Local Organizations – Save Our Cumberland Mountains, United Mountain Defense, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Newscoma has some questions. And gives the mainstream media the “asshat/wanker award for the month.” – “Yeah, yeah, I know it’s just Tennessee but it’s still an environmental disaster in this country. You know, the United States of America where we all live. Do you guys think we just have Elvis’ ghost and Dolly Parton here in Tennesse? Sheesh.

Knoxville News-Sentinel link round-up of local coverage

Nashville-based Enclave has more coverage and links, as does Southern Beale.

EPA’s Response to the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant Fly Ash Release

/conniption fit

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2008 1:34 pm

    I love the conniption fit tag. Me too.

  2. Polly permalink
    December 28, 2008 2:31 pm

    So much for no posts. 🙂 But seriously… this incident is horrible and it’s disgusting how little media coverage there has been reported. I’m beginning to wonder if Tennessee will ever get out of the dark ages when it comes to this stuff. IMHO.

  3. Swan Pond permalink
    December 28, 2008 4:28 pm

    The incident did not occur in Kingston Springs, which is near Nashville. It happened at the Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant, which is located between the towns of Kingston and Harriman in Roane County, Tenn.

  4. December 28, 2008 4:34 pm

    SP, thanks for pointing out that error in the title, now corrected. I think, being near Nashville now, that my brain hears “Kingston,” and the fingers type “Springs,” despite knowing the difference. Here’s a map of the TVA sites.

  5. December 29, 2008 12:38 pm

    I’m glad I found your new site. I’ve posted a link to your health site for women on my blog page. Keep up the good work!

  6. Polly permalink
    December 29, 2008 4:36 pm

    I thought I would add this link fromt eh EPA as well. this seems to be updated fairly regularly:

  7. December 29, 2008 6:13 pm

    Thanks, Polly, I’m going to add that link above.

  8. December 31, 2008 11:33 pm

    Interesting Read! Very detailed blog.
    Thanks for sharing

  9. John permalink
    January 1, 2009 12:01 pm

    You make some very good and factual points. However, at what point in time are we going to educate the public on the reality of energy production options. This country produces and has produced over 50% of its energy from coal plants since before I was born. Why?? This country has a lot of coal and our citizens like cheap power.

    There is not one reliable and renewable energy source that can replace that coal power plant capacity unless we want to cut down all the trees in this country and build unattractive windmills everywhere. Actually, that still wouldn’t be enough. Solar? Ha, let’s get real about the cost and what we really would get from that. The only real option to displace base load coal capacity is new nuclear plants. I know it was the cool thing to protest these plants by the liberals in the past but any electric energy educated person knows that if you want clean (essentially no emissions) electricity production with controllable waste; nuclear is the only answer.

    It’s easy to criticize every option but what does that really get us. Let’s start educating the public on the reality of our options and offer solutions as well. Oh yeah, and include the cost of doing such.

  10. January 2, 2009 10:21 am

    John, I agree of course that electricity has to come from *somewhere.* Having had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people about power generation, I find that many people in the TVA area don’t even realize how much is coming from coal – many people assume most of it is hydroelectricity from the ubiquitous TVA dams. The point being, many people don’t already share the common knowledge base of where the electricity comes from and the pros and cons of each source. There is some basic education that needs to happen for everybody to be able to have the type of conversation you’re wanting to have.

    I disagree about windmills being unattractive – I’ve seen them in person and find them quite beautiful, in design as well as function. They’re much more attractive than blowing the tops off of mountains, in any case.

  11. February 16, 2009 2:21 pm

    People keep talking about statistics, laws, testing results, energy requirements, resources, alternatives… Nobody cares about the actual residents though.

    Everyone was told to boil their water (as if it was merely a sewer line break) but boiling the water destroyed the pots. Residents and pets were throwing up because of drinking water from their wells. People were getting chemical burns just by taking a shower. TVA publicly stated they were delivering bottled water but the residents weren’t receiving any of that bottled water. UMD volunteers delivered hundreds of gallons of bottled water but were getting detained by federal TVA police and told they were not allowed to pass out free bottled water to the residents. People and pets have repeated nose bleeds. A dog’s nose has changed from dark brown to bright pink. Gold and silver jewelry is turning black, and though professional cleaning can clean some of it out, the jewelry won’t get back to normal. Something must be in the air, maybe hydrogen sulfide.

  12. February 28, 2009 5:50 pm

    I am an impacted resident and you should read my story. It is sad:

    Friday, February 27, 2009
    My Story by Diana Anderson

    December 22, 2008, changed my life and this is the story I want to tell:

    I have lived in my house at 364 Emory River Rd, Harriman, TN, for 32 years and had also lived with my parents in a summer house we had in the Tri County Sportsman Club for 9 years, which is about one half mile up river. I had been in the entertainment business for the first 22 years with my daughters. We were members of the group, The Moonshine Cloggers and The Dew Drops. We were cloggers on the TV show “Hee Haw”. We preformed as part of the traveling Hee Haw Road Show. We traveled all the time performing on cruise ships, at fairs and conventions, and were really not home a lot.

    When my daughters grew up and were in high school, I knew they wanted to go to college, so I knew that the entertainment was coming to an end. I got a job at K-25, a DOE Plant in Oak Ridge, TN. I was a Radiological Control Technologist. I gained a lot of experience over the next 15 years in controlling airborne hazardous radioactive material. I worked with the worst contamination, plutonium, at the Rocky Flatts Plant in Denver, Colorado.

    After I started working at the DOE site in Oak Ridge, I started getting sick. Of course we stayed at home and did not travel doing shows any longer. I became fatigued, and my blood pressure got high. I started coughing, and became congested constantly. I could not get rid of the cough or the congestion. I started getting burn spots on my hands. I went to medical at the K-25 Site, and they said they had never seen anything like it before and suggested that I go to my family doctor. No one knew what the skin problem was, as they had never seen it before.

    I started having some anxiety and cried a lot. Little did I know that by staying home, I was breathing the coal fly ash which blew from the top of the ponds of the Kingston Coal Fire Plant. I did see black dust and tiny pieces of black dirt on my car, deck, beach, and on the sand bar in front of my house. I got so fatigued that I could not walk to the top of my stairs without breathing so hard I thought that I was going to pass out.

    I went to the Family Clinic in Oak Ridge and asked Dr. Daniel Lenior to run heavy metal testing on me and handed him a paper with the metals I had worked around. He slowly went to the trash can and let the paper slide into it and never mentioned it to me again. I could not believe that he would let me continue to be so terribly sick and not run the heavy metal testing on me or suggest somewhere else to go for the testing.

    I went to Troutsdale, Virginia, to a clinic called Mt Rogers Clinic, where I paid $1000.00 for a physical out of my own pocket and found out that I had mercury poisoning. I had worked in some buildings at the plant that had had mercury in them. I had about 15 chelation therapy treatments at $120.00 each, which involves the removal of heavy metals. I started getting better and especially less fatigued.

    I still continued to have the constant congestion, high blood pressure, anxiety, headaches, burn blisters on my hands, but the fatigue problems was much better. How could I have known that I was still breathing in the toxic coal fly ash from the Kingston Coal Fire Plant? I just could not get totally better no matter what medicine a doctor would prescribe for me.

    After the disaster happened on December 22, TVA representatives came to my house and asked me what would make me happy. I thought they were crazy. They told me that the coal fly ash was inert. It is used in bowling balls, concrete, pavement, etc. They made it sound like it was harmless. In two more days they came back and again asked me what would it take to make me happy. I still thought they were crazy, and it made me think that I should research this coal fly ash because of how they acted. I got on the computer, researched the coal fly ash and started getting sick to my stomach when I found what was in it.

    We had a neighborhood meeting with the TVA representatives and at that meeting I handed out a report on the coal fly ash that it was not inert. The fly ash has uranium attached to it after the combustion process, is dumped into the ash pond, dries, and some of it blows in the air. The TVA representatives never came to my house again.

    TVA started covering the toxic fly ash with straw by helicopter and planted grass seed on it. I cannot imagine what would grow on fly ash. Anyway, it did not work. There was a wind storm and the straw and grass seed which did not grow, blew away. TVA started painting it with acrylic paint. What a joke. Anyway, it broke apart with another storm and blew away. When the wind is blowing the fly ash looks like clouds in the area and blows everywhere. We all breathe it. TVA does not even care about the health hazard they have created and how it has hurt us since 1955 when the plant was built. TVA is spending one million dollars a day and still making a bigger mess of the disaster.

    TVA took over the ball park and soccer field behind the plant and are now filling it up with toxic coal fly ash. They move it from one side of the plant to the other side of the plant and to the ball field. So now there is more toxic fly ash laying there getting dry and blowing into the environment. The people who live in the vicinity of the plant by the ball field are getting heavy doses of the toxic fly ash.

    I studied the coal fly ash on the computer more and more and found a group called United Mountain Defense. I contacted them, and liked what they do. I also joined a local group online where we emailed our concerns. United Mountain Defense gathered grant money to pay for 29 people to have heavy metal testing done and I jumped on that. It was free and I knew that I needed to have it done.

    After the testing came back, I found that I had high levels of aluminum, antimony, nickel, tin, and a disease called Protoporphyria. I was amazed. I did not know what Protoporphyria was. I began to research it and found that it was either hereditary of caused from being in a toxic environment, or eating toxic food. Neither of my parents had this problem, so I believe this is of course from the toxic environment that I live in. I later found out that there were seven other people in the community who also had the same Porphyrin disease and are not kin to each other. This made me very suspicious that this is an epidemic.

    On Monday, February 23, I picked up a 16 year old girl from our community and took her to the ER at Childrens Hospital, Knoxville, TN. She complained of chest pains, stomach pains, and her left leg getting numb. She handed the on call doctor her heavy metal testing report and it showed that she had very toxic levels of mercury in her body and she had no fillings in her teeth from which the mercury could have come from. The doctor was very concerned and referred her to a Neurologist. She also has the Porphyrin disease. The disease can effect the person neurologically causing the person to become a quadrapalegic and can even be fatal. I am really worried about this 16 year old, because she is to young to be dealing with this.

    This toxic heavy metal environment we live in is espcially dangerous to children and babies. I could be linked to autism in babies. I would not have a baby live in this environment. I would not be surprised if all the 32 other Coal Plants in the United States have the same environment as we do. They could possibly be causing an epidemic of Porphria all over the United States. This disease has no cure and is inherited by the children. So it is passed on and on making it a serious epidemic.

    I contacted Internal Balance in Brentwood, TN, next to Nashville, and found that this Porphyrin disease is either inherited or acquired. She said that we would have to undergo further testing. I decided to leave my home and move in with my daughter in Nashville, TN. I was getting so sick that I could not walk up my stairs again without breathing hard and feeling like I was going to pass out. I need help or I feel that I am going to die. The burn places are now breaking out on my stomach, my leg and on top of my foot. They are painful and I have to get away from the toxic coal fly ash.

    The ash was in my house, on my lawn chairs, on my hot tub, on my car, on my central heating and air filters. I was eating and breathing the fly ash. I couldn’t take it any longer. I will come back to this story and edit it as the story goes on. Right now at least I am away from the fly ash and my friends are still back there which is depressing to me. Dear God they need help.

    • Allen Cooke permalink
      February 26, 2010 8:42 am


      I knew you back in your clogging days! I’m from Charlotte but moved to Nashville in Dec 1981 and remember you used to have a group that met at 100 Oaks Mall. But I attended several clogging events at Fontana, Knoxville and Pigeon Forge where you were performing.

      I was afflicted by mercury poisoning too! I found some things that helped me and would be glad to share my experience with you.

    • Allen Cooke permalink
      February 26, 2010 5:49 pm


      I’m sorry, I was confused and called you Debra.

    • Terry C> Royal permalink
      February 6, 2011 3:08 am

      Hi Diane, I have not seen you in about 30 years,sorry to read about your problems. My son used to dance for Peg McClarren, I remeber the first time I met you was at Nashville Indiana where you and Debra judged. Hope some parts of your life has turned out great, you were a special person. Terry c. Royal

  13. March 1, 2009 10:08 am

    Diana, thank you for sharing your story – this is important.

  14. Bob permalink
    September 4, 2009 6:57 am

    I was shocked to hear of Diana’s situation. I knew her just before the Moonshine Cloggers began appearing on Hee Haw and have thought of her often over the years. I grew up in Kingston and my father worked at the steam plant for many years. He would come home covered in fly ash, but he considered it part of the job. He became suddenly ill in 1978 and died six months after being diagnosed with “epidermal brochial carcinoma”, a cancer something akin to mesothelioma. Co-workers counseled my mother as to keeping her “options” open, but she did not know what they meant. Years later I found out that “fly ash” was considered carcinogenic. After the avalanche occurred and the media was being fed by the TVA propoganda, it was disturbing to hear that all of the mess was harmless. Of course, now the facts are starting to emerge.
    I pray for the best outcome for Diana and for all those adversely impacted by the Kingston event.

  15. rosa permalink
    July 9, 2012 4:24 pm

    diana, i was a student of yours and debra along time in nashville i talk about yaull often and proud to be a graduate of the moonshine cloggers technique. rosa edwards


  1. Back In Middle School I Used To Love Them Myths : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

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