Coal Ash Disaster Could Have Been Avoided

They knew about the threat for 20 years, but did nothing

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It’s been seven months since a billion gallons of coal ash burst through a failed construction dike in Harriman, Tennessee, covering 300 acres, destroying homes, flooding properties and poisoning rivers and wells. According to a recently released report, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Inspector General for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the Kingston Fossil Plant and its accompanying coal ash impoundment, reported this week that TVA “has failed for more than 20 years to heed warnings” that might have prevented this spill from happening. This revelation, revealed at the third congressional hearing since the spill, shows that TVA ignored repeated warnings from its own workers in 1985 and again in 2004 that the coal ash site was a public health hazard.

And there’s more:

According to an article in the Tennessean, “The Tennessee Valley Authority intentionally and improperly steered an outside investigation into the cause of the massive spill of coal ash at its Kingston, Tenn., plant to protect the TVA from lawsuits instead of seeking the full truth, the agency’s inspector general believes.”

The truth is finally starting to come out, and we hope that the Feds recognize the hazardous threat posed by coal ash sites. We’re still waiting for information about hundreds more similar coal ash sites across the country that the EPA has been compiling since March, which still is 6-8 weeks out. The agency has said it plans to issue regulations governing coal ash disposal by the end of this year. For the people and communities living near these impoundments and landfills, safety protections couldn’t come soon enough.

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.