Most people can recall or have at least heard of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. This event is cited as one of the most devastating environmental disasters to occur in US history, receiving much mediated and public attention. Yet, why is it that over the past few weeks there has been waning discourse about a recent coal spill in Tennessee that is estimated to be 50 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill?
Aerial Footage of the Spill:
Just recently on December 22 of 2008, 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash flooded out of a TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Kingston Fossil Plant in an Eastern Tennessee town just forty miles West of Knoxville. For those unfamiliar with this particular culprit known as coal ash, it is the leftover residue from coal-fired power plants that generate electricity and expel pollutants. In order to prevent the ash from entering into and contaminating the atmosphere, it is mixed with water so that it can be kept in retaining pools.
This particular TVA plant had been accumulating waste for over half a century, housing sludge that staggered 65 feet into the air, spreading over 100 acres prior to when the dam burst in December. As imagined, the consequences of this spill were, and still are, devastating to the surrounding communities. The expansive outflow of sludge has damaged around twenty-two homes and has reportedly spilled into two tributaries of the Tennessee River, the Emory and Clinch Rivers. The Tennessee River marks a major source of drinking water for not only people in East Tennessee, but in Alabama, Kentucky, Chattanooga, and Western regions of Tennessee as well. Concerned yet? The T.V.A. isn’t—their website refers to the spillage as an “ash slide”, making the catastrophe sound rather harmless.
So, the big question is, why has a story of such magnitude been so downplayed in the media? I know that there are big stories to cover in the news right now, from the conflicts between Israeli and Palestinian forces to a tanking American economy. But, this is arguably the biggest environmental disaster in United States’ history! This story needs to be unveiled—questions need to be asked and action needs to be taken. The main question I asked earlier—why is the story going unreported—directly leads into the conflict surrounding the hazards of coal ash. When it comes to the subject of coal residue, the majority of people engaged in the topic believe that coal ash contains no harmful toxins, and is perfectly safe. This likely explains why this story has been shoved under the rug. Yet, it would be misleading to say that there are not people concerned about this issue, namely environmentalists and Tennessee residents who believe that coal ash is harmful. If there is a present concern, the question should be examined: is coal ash really as harmless as many claim it to be? (more…)