A new analysis of downstream water samples taken in the weeks following the massive coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston power plant shows levels of heavy-metal contamination that exceed safety standards.
The tests were sponsored by the Environmental Integrity Project and United Mountain Defense, and the results released yesterday by those groups along with the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivors Network, which was founded by residents of the Harriman, Tenn. community impacted by the disaster.
"Leaving the ash sitting on the riverbanks and in the river will endanger public health and the environment," said Jeff Stant, director of EIP's Coal Combustion Waste Initiative. "Every time it rains, the ash will continue to leach heavy metals and further contaminate the watershed."
Among the findings:
* Samples from six locations near or downstream from the ash spill showed levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and selenium exceeding Water Quality Criteria established by the Clean Water Act to protect aquatic life and human activity in rivers from dangerous pollution. Only one upriver sample showed high levels of any of these metals; it exceeded the lower, chronic criteria for lead.
* Samples from seven locations downstream of the spill showed levels of one or more heavy metals including antimony, arsenic, beryllium and lead exceeding Primary Drinking Water Standards, with arsenic more than double and copper five times acute toxicity levels. None of the three samples taken upstream exceeded the criteria.
* TVA denied the groups access to wells in the impacted area, so they tested wells east of the site. None of the samples had levels exceeding Primary Drinking Water Standards for heavy metals, but all of the wells had one or more pollutants known to leach from ash including aluminum, iron and manganese at levels exceeding Secondary Drinking Water Standards. The tests also turned up four wells with levels of manganese or sodium -- contaminants found in coal ash -- exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency's health-based advisories.
* The tests also found widely fluctuating arsenic levels in the Emory and Clinch rivers -- some as many as 37 times the Primary Drinking Water Standard. The groups say this could threaten the use of the rivers for drinking water and shows the need for more testing.
Recent tests by Duke University scientists also found potentially dangerous levels of radiation in coal ash samples collected from the spill site.
"We worry about the havoc that coal ash will cause to our land, water, wildlife, ecosystem and human health," said spill survivor Sarah McCoin, a fifth-generation Harriman resident. She called for federal regulations that "will protect other communities from the anguish of this disaster that we now face."