Advocates Challenge TVA's Continued Operation of High Hazard Dam

Coal ash threatens drinking water supply for 170,000 people


Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, ext. 213

Clean water advocates are challenging a permit that allows the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to discharge 19 million gallons of contaminated water into a reservoir that supplies drinking water for 170,000 people. Instead of installing effective water pollution controls at its Bull Run Fossil plant, TVA will dump its wastewater into a 30-acre high hazard dam or “settling pond” that drains water laced with arsenic, selenium and other toxic heavy metals straight into the Melton Reservoir.

Bull Run’s coal ash dam is located just 50 miles upstream from the Kingston Fossil plant’s coal ash dam, which burst in December 2008, spilling one billion gallons of coal ash into the Clinch River in Tennessee. Because Bull Run’s coal ash dam poses a similar risk of disaster, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed it among the top 49 most hazardous dams in the country. Recent inspections reveal major structural problems with the dam, ongoing seepage, and other serious concerns. For instance, water levels in the fly ash settling pond are perilously close to the top of the dike.

Despite these problems, the state of Tennessee has authorized Bull Run to continue operating its dam as a so-called waste-water treatment system over the next five years. However, EPA has found that settling ponds are ineffective at treating coal plant wastewaters, which have high concentrations of dissolved toxic metals.

On behalf of Tennessee Clean Water Network and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project are appealing the October 1, 2010 permitting decision by the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) under the Clean Water Act. The appeal filed today before the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board challenges TDEC’s failure to require installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls to limit toxic pollution, especially from heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium and mercury.

“After the Kingston disaster, TVA and the state of Tennessee should know better,” said Megan Klein, Earthjustice attorney. “The EPA lists this coal ash dam as ‘high-hazard’ because it will likely kill people if it fails. TVA needs to shut it down and move to a safe system that actually works to prevent water pollution.”

“The Bull Run plant discharged over 55,000 pounds of toxic water pollutants, like arsenic and barium, in 2009 alone,” said Abel Russ of the Environmental Integrity Project. “Other plants are limiting the releases of these pollutants, and the TVA plant just upstream of where the Kingston coal ash disaster occurred should be no exception.”

It is technologically and economically feasible for TVA to dispose of its wastewater in safer ways that would not jeopardize water quality in the Melton Reservoir, a popular fishing and boating destination. Through the implementation of “zero liquid discharge technologies,” wastewater discharges can be eliminated altogether, and other technologies are in common use to reduce pollution from the dissolved metals that do not settle out in settling ponds.

“When it comes to these toxic metals, TDEC must do a better job to protect the environment and the people from this hazardous wastewater,” said Renee Hoyos Executive Director of Tennessee Clean Water Network.

“It is no secret that coal ash contains a number of toxic pollutants that endanger human health and the environment,” said Joshua Ulan Galperin, policy analyst and research attorney with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “EPA is well aware of this, TDEC is well aware of this, and after the Kingston disaster, people all along the Clinch River are aware. And yet, despite the danger and the legal imperative, TDEC has failed to impose water pollution limits in this new Bull Run permit."

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