February 2, 2009: Experts say tests show Tenn. water is contaminated by heavy metals

New report offers preliminary findings; authors call for
further testing independent of TVA, full clean-up, and federal regulations

February 2, 2009—The Environmental Integrity Project and United Mountain Defense today released test results in a report entitled Sampling Fact Sheet for TVA Kingston Coal Ash Spill, with their preliminary findings on the health and safety of the region’s river water, which was compromised by the Dec. 22, 2009 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash spill.

Water Quality Criteria for arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium and copper were violated, and Primary Drinking Water standards were exceeded for arsenic, lead, beryllium, and antimony.

The test results were released during a media conference call that included Jeff Stant of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Chris Irwin of United Mountain Defense (UMD), and Sarah McCoin of the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivors Network, founded by neighbors of the spill. The test results, report, supplemental documents, maps, photos, and contact information for the speakers can be downloaded from www.kelleycampaigns.com/coalash.html.

EIP and UMD analyzed 24 water samples from 22 locations taken on Dec. 30, 2008, Dec. 31, 2008, and Jan. 4, 2009. A full list of the sampling dates and locations can be found in a supplemental spreadsheet, TVA Kingston Tables 1 2 3 4 for Residents.

The results indicate the collapse of the ash embankment has contaminated surface water near the impact site and downriver with high contaminant levels which have continued to be carried downriver some two weeks after the disaster. The samples contained heavy metals at levels that frequently exceed federal drinking water standards, making the rivers dangerously unsafe as a public drinking water supply and exceed water quality standards designed to protect aquatic life and human health.

Jeff Stant, Director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative in Indianapolis for the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, highlighted the report’s key findings, and commented on TVA’s approach to date which has left millions of tons of the ash in the Emory River and along river banks.

“Leaving the ash sitting on the riverbanks and in the river will endanger public health and the environment. Every time it rains, the ash will continue to leach heavy metals and further contaminate the watershed,” Stant said.

He added that arsenic levels as high as 21-105 ppb in the Clinch River miles downriver from the spill site endangers the use of the river as a “domestic water supply.”

“We haven’t found Drinking Water Standards, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels, exceeded in water that people actually drink, but the exceedances emphasize the need for continued monitoring at treatment plants and groundwater wells to assure that drinking water is safe,” Stant said. “And, the most stringent standards are supposed to apply to the river water if it’s also being used anywhere as a public water supply. Alarming levels of arsenic as high as 21-105 parts per billion have been found in the Clinch River several miles downriver from the impact site. We need more transparency in TVA’s that safe standards haven’t been exceeded. If the water is being used as a domestic water supply anywhere downriver, and people are fishing there, the tighter standards need to apply. That would mean 10 parts per billion for arsenic, and not hundreds of parts per billion.”

Samples from seven of 13 locations in the vicinity of the spill or downriver on the Emory and Clinch Rivers had levels of one or more heavy metals that exceeded Primary Drinking Water Standards. The metals exceeding the standards were: arsenic, lead, beryllium, and antimony. There were no exceedances of these standards for any heavy metals in samples at three locations upriver from the spill impact area.

Samples from six locations in the spill area or downriver exceeded one or more water quality standards for metals 24 times. Known as Water Quality Criteria, these standards are part of the Clean Water Act, which aim to protect aquatic life and human activity in rivers and streams from high pollution concentrations. Water Quality Criteria for copper, arsenic, lead, selenium and cadmium were violated. Copper levels surpassed the criteria for acute toxicity to aquatic life five times and arsenic surpassed this acute toxicity level twice. Only one sample upriver from the spill area exceeded any water quality criteria, and that was of the less toxic, chronic criteria for lead measured at Harriman.

Samples were taken from five wells east of the impact area, none of which exceeded the Primary Drinking Water Standards for heavy metals. However, all of the wells contained one or more other pollutants known to leach from ash, such as iron, manganese, and aluminum in amounts exceeding the use-based Secondary Drinking Water Standards. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based advisories for manganese and sodium were exceeded in one well and three wells respectively. Sodium and manganese are both common contaminants found in coal ash.

United Mountain Defenses was unable to sample wells within the impacted areas. While TVA was granted access to sample these wells, they were sealed off for usage or sampling to anyone outside TVA. The wells included in this report were east, in the opposite direction, of the spill. Speakers on the call today said it is imperative that there be further testing of residential wells as part of a greater study of the groundwater in the entire vicinity around the Kingston Plant.

The data shows widely fluctuating arsenic levels in the Emory and Clinch Rivers, as a result of this coal disaster. Two weeks after the spill, two samples taken within a half mile of the impact site contained arsenic at 32 to 37 times the Primary Drinking Water Standard, one of which also violated the acute Water Quality Criteria. Seven samples downriver ranged from no detection to more than 10 times the Drinking Water Standard three miles away and more than twice the Standard, some 4.5 miles downriver.

“Fluctuating levels of such dangerous metals in so much water two weeks after the spill calls for an expanded testing regimen and suggests that that this massive problem will not go away until the ash is removed from any contact with the Emory River,” Stant said.

Chris Irwin, a staff attorney with United Mountain Defense and sixth generation resident of Tennessee, spoke at the conference call today about the urgent need for additional regulated testing of river water, sediments and aquatic life in the Emory and Clinch Rivers.

Irwin stated, “‘Clean coal” is dead. In fact, coal is dangerous, depleting and destructive…An entire watershed and drinking water source has been contaminated by heavy metals as a direct result of TVA’s ash disaster. TVA has an obligation to both impacted residents and people living downstream to immediately pay for comprehensive independent regular testing in a transparent fashion and make that data immediately available to the public.”

Sarah McCoin, a fifth generation resident of Harriman, Tenn., and member of the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivor Network, offered her opinions as a community activist saying she was misled by TVA’s false sense of security.

“I was once a clean coal believer, thinking that coal ash was a clean byproduct produced by the coal-fired plant a mile from our home,” McCoin said. “We now understand coal ash is not safe. The results indicate contamination in the water is real. The issues are very alarming and the report on the contaminated waters is real. The dangers are real. We worry about the havoc that coal ash will cause to our land, water, wildlife, ecosystem and human health. As this stuff becomes airborne, TVA continues to suggest and state that fly ash is not a hazardous substance; it’s clear that it is. I’ve spent my lifetime hoping to come back here, and it’s actually a beautiful part of the country. Since the spill, we’ve encountered significant lifestyle changes. We must take a new perspective with coal regulation, and implement federal coal ash regulation that will protect other communities from the anguish of this disaster that we now face.”

The test results, report, supplemental documents, maps, photos, and contact information for the speakers can be obtained from www.kelleycampaigns.com/coalash.html.

For more information about the call or to interview any of the speakers, please contact Sarah Goldberg at 301-887-1060 x118, or at sarah [at] kelleycampaigns.com.

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