"We will be looking over their shoulders," the governor said. "I have asked the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to immediately do inspections" at all seven of the TVA's coal-fired power plants and fly ash waste systems.
The governor announced the higher level of state oversight after he visited the 400 acres where a retaining wall holding the fly ash from TVA's Kingston plant broke on December 22, 2008.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen warns the Tennessee Valley Authority that state inspectors will be monitoring their power plants more closely. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
The collapse dumped 5.4 million cubic yards - more than one billion gallons - of ashy sludge onto farms and residential properties in east Tennessee.
TDEC Deputy Commissioner Paul Sloan said, "The area's physical and natural environment has been dramatically impacted by this spill. Citizens' lives have been disrupted; water quality has been impaired and aquatic habitat has been destroyed."
The Kingston Fossil plant in Harriman, about 50 miles west of Knoxville, is at the confluence of the Emory and Clinch Rivers in Roane County. It is owned and operated by the nation's largest public utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Governor Bredesen toured the site of the spill by air Wednesday before receiving a briefing on the status of the clean-up operation from TVA and Roane County officials. Following a brief walking tour of the site, Bredesen met with members of two of the families affected by the spill.
The governor was joined by members of his Cabinet, including Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke and Deputy Commissioner Sloan, Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, and General James Bassham, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
"The initial response has been outstanding and we're thankful no one was hurt, but now that the emergency response is completed we clearly have long-term issues to deal with," said Bredesen. "My first concern is for the families that have been affected. My other chief concern is the lasting effects on the environment and ensuring the clean-up process is thorough and complete."
TVA, local, state and federal agencies continue to work on recovery and cleanup and much work remains to be done.
Arsenic at more than 100 times the maximum contaminant level allowed by the federal government has been found in the Emory River near the spill site, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA released laboratory test results Friday showing that arsenic levels in one sample were 149 times the maximum allowable level.
Water samples near the spill site also showed levels of lead five times higher than normal and elevated total levels of antimony, beryllium, cadmium and chromium.
Samples taken upstream from the spill site near the Kingston water treatment plant were found to be within the federal limits, except for thallium, which was found at levels three times the maximum limit, according to the EPA test data.
Additional results from both Kingston and Rockwood collected on December 31 indicate that "all treated drinking water results are well within both primary and secondary drinking water standards. All untreated water collected also met the drinking water standards for metals prior to treatment," according to the TVA.
"There have been no indications, to date, showing that drinking water has been affected by the fly ash material," the TVA said in a statement today.
TVA operations continue and include clearing ash from the impacted roadway and railroad spur; construction of a weir system to control water flow into the plant's river water intake and help reduce the potential risk of fly ash migration into the Emory and Clinch Rivers during rain events; removal of general debris from fly ash-impacted areas; and replacement of damaged water lines.
The EPA is sampling drinking water wells, municipal water intakes, soils, and water and sediment in the Clinch and Emory Rivers. Residents in this area whose would like their well tested may call 865-717-4006.
Both EPA and TVA are conducting monitoring for levels of fly ash in the air, with EPA monitoring on-site and TVA monitoring on and off-site.
A hotline for health effects information has been established by the Tennessee Department of Health, in consultation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at 1-800-404-3006.
The Emory River remains closed from mile marker zero through mile marker 4. The Kingston Fossil Plant Boat Ramp and fishing area have been closed due to large equipment being moved into the area for cleanup. Coast Guard and TVA Police marine units are providing security in the area.
Work is complete on a 615 foot rock weir built on the Emory River, just north of the existing intake skimmer weir. The weir will allow water to continue flowing, but will contain the ash.
TVA is coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address the dredging process on the Emory River in the vicinity of the release.
A second weir has been designed and when complete will confine the ash and keep it from entering the river during the river dredging process. This 2,000 foot rock weir will extend from Swan Pond Circle south to the plant river bank.
"As attention is now focused on timely cleanup and safe disposal of recovered coal ash from the spill, the department is encouraged by TVA's promise of full and complete clean up for these communities," said Sloan.
"As part of this recovery strategy," he said, "TDEC has developed and implemented a comprehensive sampling plan to address surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil and air monitoring to better inform communities and citizens while ensuring full, complete cleanup."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.