Trial to address decades of TVA coal ash pollution starts Monday

The siting of the Gallatin plant’s coal ash storage on sinkhole-prone land adjacent to Tennessee’s Cumberland River makes it particularly susceptible to ongoing leaks of pollution. (© Nancy Pierce/Flight by Southwings)

For more than 50 years, toxic coal ash pollution has been leaking from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin plant into Tennessee’s Cumberland River, which is the drinking source for more than 1 million Tennesseans. Starting Monday, TVA will be on trial for these ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act in a suit brought by SELC, representing the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, together with the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

“For years, TVA has dumped its coal ash in the cheapest and dirtiest way possible, by discarding it in acres of unlined pits next to rivers and waterways,” said Senior Attorney for Tennessee Beth Alexander “It’s time for TVA to do the responsible thing for the people of Tennessee.”

At the utility’s Gallatin Plant coal ash pits cover more than 500 acres on the banks of Tennessee’s Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake, approximately 1.5 miles upstream from the City of Gallatin’s drinking water intake.

Among the many toxins dumped by TVA into the Cumberland River are selenium and arsenic.  In fact, a recent review of groundwater monitoring wells showed that areas scattered all over the Gallatin Plant contain arsenic at levels well above EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level; one area was as high as twenty times the EPA  level.

This dirty method of coal ash disposal is compounded by the fact that TVA’s Gallatin Plant is riddled with sinkholes. There were so many sinkholes present when the coal ash ponds were built in the 1970s that, for about 8 years, they did not hold wastewater. Records show during that time more than 27 billion gallons of coal ash waste leaked into the groundwater and Cumberland River. TVA’s own 1977 inquiry into the leaks states:

“the network of solution cavities and crevices in the groundwater system under the pond is extensive; that identification of all the sinkholes which presently leak from the pond to this system would require extensive field surveys; and that plugging the presently leaking sink holes would give no assurance that other sinkholes would not begin to leak.”

The Gallatin Plant produces approximately 235,000 tons of coal ash each year, all of which is stored on site. Coal ash is known to contain a wide array of pollutants including arsenic, lead, and boron.

This is the first ever Clean Water Act case against a coal-fired power plant for leaching coal ash in Tennessee and will be held in the Nashville Federal Courthouse, overseen by the Honorable Waverly Crenshaw.

For more details on the case, click here.

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