TVA Report Downplays Risk of Future Coal Ash Dam Failures

Casts Tennessee disaster as once-in-a-lifetime event


Lisa Evans, Earthjustice, (781) 631-4119


The Tennessee Valley Authority released a report today that purports to uncover the cause of the December 2008 coal ash disaster at its Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, TN.


TVA paid the engineering firm AECOM to conduct the report, which was not reviewed by any outside scientists.

This week marks the six-month anniversary of the TVA catastrophe, when more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge burst through a dam and coated 300 acres in sludge, destroying homes, poisoning rivers and contaminating residential areas.

The following statement is from Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans:

"In its report, which appears to obfuscate as much as it explains, TVA is casting its billion-gallon coal ash spill as the ‘perfect storm,’ a once-in-a-lifetime event. This type of explanation sounds eerily familiar. When 125 people were killed in the Buffalo Creek coal slurry disaster of 1972, the coal company made the same claims, calling the event an ‘act of God’ to avoid liability, despite the fact that the dam failure was clearly caused by poorly constructed and inspected impoundments.

"By the study author’s own admission, the report did not examine what role agency negligence played in the disaster. TVA’s self-serving version of the truth won’t suffice. We need an immediate investigation by the relevant federal agencies with expertise in dam safety and hazardous substances, namely FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"In some 1,400 pages the report attempts to bury the most important fact: dumping millions of tons of heavy, wet toxic coal ash in unregulated or poorly regulated impoundments, high above residential areas, is a recipe for disaster, whether that disaster is unleashed in a matter of minutes, or more gradually as the poisons seep through the ground and poison nearby wells."

"What’s more, we need a full accounting of the locations of all the country’s coal ash dams. EPA has this information but has thus far refused to release it. Nearby communities deserve to know whether they are in harm’s way. This report will do nothing to assure them that they are safe."

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