Tennessee Coal Sludge Disaster

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Tennessee Coal Sludge Disaster

What Happened?

The largest environmental disaster in U.S. history occurred on December 22nd, 2008 when a 84-acre pit containing toxic coal combustion residue at the Tennessee Valley Authority Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tennessee gave way. According to a report by AECOM, the firm hired to perform the root cause report, a “combination of the high water content of the wet ash, the increasing height of ash, the construction of the sloping dikes over the wet ash, and the existence of an unusual bottom layer of ash and silt were among the long-evolving conditions that caused the ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant” (TVA, 2010). The resulting slide sent a wave of over a billion gallons of sludge out on the 300 acres of land surrounding the Fossil plant, instantly covering it with a 4 foot layering of sludge. The toxic coal combustion residue wave destroyed 15 homes, damaged 43 more homes, took down power lines, ruptured a major gas line, potentially poisoned drinking water supplies, and devastated the local fish population. The resulting spill was over 100 times larger then the Exxon-Valdez oil spill (CNN, 2008). The sludge contaminated both the Emory River and the Clinch River, both tributaries of the Tennessee River. While no lives were lost during the actual event, the environmental and public health implications will continue to haunt Tennessee for a very long time to come. The true extent of the damage won’t become known for many generations.

What is Coal Sludge?

Coal Combustion Residue, or coal sludge, is the byproduct of burning coal in order to make energy. It is a combination of fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag, and flue gas. According to the watchdog group “” the ...

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Bruce Nilles, "Coal Waste Spills by the Dozen?," Daily Kos, January 9, 2009.

Duncan Mansfield, "Cleanup begins in wake of Tennessee ash pond flood," Associated Press, December 24, 2008.

United States. Cong. Congress. By Linda Luther. 111 Cong. Cong. Rept. Congressional Research Institute, 12 Jan. 2010. Web. .