Nasty Stuff in the Groundwater Around TVA Plants, Report Says


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Groundwater near three Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired plants is laced with arsenic, selenium, boron, beryllium, cadmium and lead due to coal ash storage ponds, according to a report released by environmental groups. TVA has fired back, telling The Tennessean that drinking water standards were used in the report, rendering the findings misleadingly grim.

Pith thinks it's worth noting that in just about every case, groundwater that was upgradient (or upstream) from the power plants was found to contain contaminants that were below detectable levels. If drinking water quality is the standard used in the report, as TVA claims, then the groundwater is generally safe before it reaches the coal ash ponds. Yet somehow the TVA spin doctors expect us to believe that the metric is unfair when, downgradient (or downstream) from the same power plants, the concentrations of arsenic were, in one case, 52 times more than acceptable limits.

Clearly, it's simply too much to expect that our groundwater be remotely drinkable. What's terrifying about this report is that it's unknown how many groundwater wells exist around these power plants, and whether or not they're filtering the water. Apparently, neither TVA nor the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation would release this information. Either they didn't have it, they claimed, or they couldn't release it due to the Tennessee Terrorism Prevention Act — you know, since obviously Osama bin Laden has rural Tennessee's water supply in his crosshairs. Allahu Akbar, New Johnsonville!

Here are some highlights:

Cumberland Steam Plant, Cumberland City, Tenn.
Location: Sits on the bank of the Cumberland River.
Found downgradient from coal ash: Arsenic at 2X the Maximum Contaminant Level, Selenium at 3X MCL, Boron at 12X MCL.
At Risk: 440 households in very rural area within a three-mile radius. It is unknown how many groundwater wells are nearby.

Gallatin Fossil Plant, Gallatin, Tenn.
Location: Sit on the bank of the Cumberland River
Found downgradient from coal ash: Beryllium at 5X-6X MCL, Cadmium exceeding MCL, Nickel at 2X MCL.
At Risk: 38,000 people in Gallatin. The public water intake is a mile from the coal ash ponds on the Cumberland. City officials say the water is safe. Pith speculates that a water intake on the Cumberland that is one mile from a soggy, leaching pile o' poison is unappetizing.

Johnsonville Fossil Plant, New Johnsonville, Tenn.
Location: An 87-acre, unlined island smack dab in the middle of the Tennessee River.
Found in monitoring wells on the island: Arsenic at 52X MCL, Boron at 8X MCL, Lead at 26X MCL. It should be noted that these figures are from the '90s, because for whatever reason, the feds decided TVA didn't need to monitor these levels. Imagine this pile of ash sitting in the Tennessee River, releasing these pollutants like a soapy sponge placed in a slow-moving stream. Pollutants found in the river exceed water quality standards — but according to the report, the state does not require TVA to limit their discharge or monitor pollutant levels more frequently.
At Risk: New Johnsonville and Camden, whose water intakes are, in some cases, roughly half a mile from the coal ash seepages.

Clean coal!


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