Democracy Now! has reported a huge spill of toxic sludge that has buried a part of Tennessee in as much as six feet of coal-fired power plant toxic coal ash. CNN has reported that the toxic spill was over a billion gallons – “enough to fill 1,660 Olympic-sized swimming pools.”
The toxic spill is more than fifty times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. “Coal ash typically contains high concentrations of toxic chemicals like mercury, cadmium, (arsenic, lead, selenium, uranium, thorium,) and other heavy metals.” The New York Times has reported the EPA found that “concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.”
“The sludge has flowed into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people downstream in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky.”
And this isn't the first time. Toxic sludge floods also happened in Martin County, KY in 2000 and in Buffalo Creek, WV in 1972.
Moreover; “The toxic sludge we are seeing pollute Tennessee today is actually from air pollution control devices.” That's right. The cleaner the air is from a coal-fired power plant, the dirtier the toxic sludge. And this disaster shows us again that a real threat exists that coal-ash toxic sludge will not be contained. The regulations for landfills are far more lax than regulations for air quality. High Country News has reported extensive health problems near coal-fired power plant toxic landfills in Arizona. In Arizona, however, there have been no huge breaches. The toxins just blow in the wind.
This disaster in Tennessee is just a catastrophic example of what we already know. There is no such thing as clean coal.
Environmental disasters such as these continue to remind us of how important it is for us to utilize safer technology to generate power. Unfortunately, the coal industry won't do this FOR us... For them, it costs too much to do the right thing. For us, it costs too much not to.