Tests have found coal ash contamination in the groundwater at nine Tennessee Valley Authority power plants, including two sites where investigators say the pollution could pose a health hazard.
As The Tennessean reports, the TVA’s Office of Inspector General discovered groundwater contamination at all but one of the 10 plants it assessed.
The inspector general’s assessment pointed in particular to the contamination at the Gallatin and Cumberland power plants in Tennessee. Excessive levels of arsenic and other toxic metals from coal ash were detected at Cumberland, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, while beryllium, cadmium and nickel were discovered at Gallatin.
In addition, the inspector general said that TVA officials for more than 10 years have found indications that toxic metals could be leaking from a coal ash pond at the authority’s Allen plant. Arsenic above currently allowable levels was found repeatedly in a monitoring well at the site, which lies above a deep, high-quality aquifer that supplies drinking water to Memphis and nearby areas.
That revelation surprised Chuck Head, a senior official with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“I was not aware of this until today,” he said, after The Tennessean provided a copy of the TVA report. “We would obviously have liked them to report it to us when they found the arsenic.”
A TVA spokeswoman told the newspaper in an email that, at the time of the testing at Allen, the contamination levels were within limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water.
However, the inspector general’s report said that arsenic levels exceeded a tighter standard later adopted by the EPA.
The ash from coal-burning power plants contains a variety of heavy metals in low concentrations. Without proper controls, they can leach into groundwater and pollute drinking water, posing “significant public health concerns,” according to the EPA.
Since at least the 1980s, amid increasing cases of coal ash contamination, environmentalists have pressed for tougher regulation.
Website in Favor of Coal Ash Burns EPA’s Inspector General