Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's No Secret: Coal Is Dirty!

That means coal ash is dirty, too, and if the industry insists on reusing it for construction or mine reclamation, it must do so very carefully…

It would be great if recycling coal combustion residues for construction of roads and golf courses was a good idea. We have more that 120-million tons of it to work with every year. Even as I write, the Tennessee Valley Authority is scrambling to find enough places just to stash the load of it that blew out into the Emory River and nearby communities in Roane County, Tennessee last December. It looks like they are trying to buy some old landfills and mined lands to get rid of it.

If TVA, essentially a quasi-governmental power utility, has not already scared you to death by its handling of fly ash (a common term, along with coal ash, often used instead of coal combustion residue), consider what Dominion Virginia Power just got caught doing.

In 2001, Dominion wanted to build a golf course with fly ash from its Deep Creek coal-fired power plant near Chesapeake, Virginia. A Dominion subcontractor had already been cited for allowing too much ash to pile up in a regulated landfill, so -- like TVA -- they needed somewhere else to put it.

Dominion did the right thing when they hired consultants to study possible environmental risks of such a project. Three-hundred-fifty pages of evidence later, Dominion chose to do the wrong thing. Instead of following recommendations to avoid possible contamination -- a choice that would have made the project more expensive -- they chose to keep the negative findings secret. They chose to pay extra money for a more sophisticated prediction model that would make the project appear less risky.

The golf course, with 1.5-million tons of fly ash land-sculpting its greens and fairways, is now two years old. Water tests from samples under the course in 2008 revealed high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in groundwater. EPA tests confirmed elevated levels of arsenic and lead. The original study said that 82 percent of residents with wells in the area drew water from the same aquifer that underlies the unlined ash reception areas, and warned that any well drawing from it might suck up elements leaching out from the golf course's toxic fill.

Gee, do you think that's why Dominion was sued last March by 400 residents who say fly ash from the Battlefield Golf Club trashed their drinking water, wrecked property values and threatened their health?

Does any of this sound familiar?

Spreading coal ash all over the countryside is not a good idea! Not in Virginia, not in Tennessee, not anywhere. If I ever decide the coal and coal-power industries can be trusted to go all out to protect people and nature from toxic coal ash, I might change my mind. But I'm afraid that will be a very cold day in hell.

Read the whole dirty story written by Robert McCabe in the Virginian-Pilot at

You can follow the TVA coal ash mess at The Virginian-Pilot article is posted in full there as well. The Swan Pond Lady (as I call her) has kept a remarkable journal of the TVA disaster from the beginning, and continues to give us a heart's-eye view of the suffering that continues in Roane County.

Also see this blog that was created for updates on plans for a TVA coal ash dump in Cumberland County, Tennessee: